John McCain Holds The Keys To Tax Reform’s Fate

Anybody who was watching the July Senate floor vote on the Republicans' bill to repeal and replace Obamacare will remember the audible gasps that John McCain elicited when he surprised his own party by voting against the plan. And now just four months later, he's gearing up to do it again.

According to the New York Times, McCain may once again decide the fate of one of the Trump administration's top legislative priorities.

The senator from Arizona has been tight-lipped about whether he will vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on the bill, which was voted out of the Senate Banking Committee yesterday with the support of Bob Corker and Ron Johnson, who have both expressed reservations about the plan – Johnson had even said he wouldn’t vote for it.

As the NYT points out, McCain has staked his career on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and has bucked his party by voting against tax cuts in the past.

McCain’s skepticism of tax cuts stretches at least as far back as 1994. At that time, he was fretting about being fiscally responsible now that Republicans had seized control of Congress. “I think we would be making a terrible mistake to go back to the 80s, where we cut all of those taxes and all of a sudden now we’ve got a debt that we’ve got to pay on an annual basis that is bigger than the amount that we spend on defense,” McCain said.

“Mr. McCain has voted against big tax cuts before, including two that passed under another Republican president: George W. Bush In that case, he bucked the majority of hi party on the grounds that the 2001 and 2003 cuts overwhelmingly benefited the rich – a widespread criticism of the current Senate legislation and the bill that has already passed the House. Mr. McCain is also a deficit hawk and could find it had to swallow a tax cut that will add around $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years.”

 

 

“In 2001, as Republicans forged ahead with a $1.35 trillion tax cut, Mr. McCain became one of two Republican senators to vote against the bill’s passage. He said he could not accept that changes to the bill lowered the top individual tax rate to 35% and delayed tax relief for married couples.”

 

‘We had an opportunity to provide much more tax relief to millions of hard-working Americans,” Mr. McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor. ‘But I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief.’

 

Two years later, Mr. McCain voted against another round of tax cuts. In his remarks in 2003, Mr. McCain again cast doubt on the need to use ‘billions of federal dollars to cut taxes for our nation’s wealthiest.’ The deal breaker that time was that his fellow lawmakers would pass such cuts while rejecting legislation that would have allowed members of the military to get tax breaks on profits from selling their homes.

Several of McCain’s associates said they wouldn’t be surprised if he voted against the senate bill, which he has criticized for being too generous with the wealthy.

“’I don’t know,’ Douglas Holtz-Eakin, policy adviser to Mr. McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said when asked how his former boss would vote on the tax overhaul. ‘For most people there are going to be things in there they don’t like and the question is what is preferable, the status quo or the bill.’”

During the 2000 Republican primary, when he ultimately lost out to George W Bush, McCain positioned himself as the candidate of fiscal restraint, advocating paying down the debt over tax cuts for the rich.

“We ought to pay down the debt, and we also ought to make Social Security solvent,” he said.

More recently, Mr. McCain has been toeing the party line on taxes.

In 2006, Mr. McCain supported extending the Bush tax cuts on the basis that letting them expire would represent a tax increase.

The tax plan that Mr. McCain crafted in 2008 during his presidential run against Barack Obama was even more mainstream Republican. He called for lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent, phasing out the alternative minimum tax and doubling the value of exemptions for each dependent to $7,000 from $3,500.

Anyone who was paying attention to McCain’s explanation for opposing the Republican health care plan will remember that one of his reason for opposing the bill was its lack of bipartisan support. Given the intensely partisan atmosphere that has persisted in Washington for much of the last decade, this sounds like an excuse for voting against the bill out of spite.

At the end of the day, McCain and fellow Trump opponents Bob Corker and Jeff Flake aren’t running again. They’ve already suggested that they find Trump and his agenda repugnant.

And with the Republicans’ razor-thin majority, three no votes would be enough to kill the bill, which is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote tomorrow.
 

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VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index

Authored by Peter Tchir via Forbes.com,

We have all heard the VIX or volatility index referred to as the Fear Index or Fear Gauge.  Rising VIX was meant to signal fear in the markets.  That is how most investors have historically thought about VIX and traded it (directly or through Exchange Traded Products).

I have gone back in time and combined the total assets under management of XIV and SVXY (two short VIX products) and UVXY and VXX (the two largest long VIX products).  There are others and it doesn't account for the fact that UVXY incorporates leverage, but the point is the same.

The funds that in theory helped investors 'hedge' their portfolios went from being the dominant species to those that enable investors to sell volatility.

Short VIX Funds are Larger than Long VIX Funds (source Bloomberg)

This has rarely been the case.

Typically investors had more interest in hedging their portfolios despite the evidence that the long VIX ETFs and ETNs had to continually perform reverse splits as their share prices drifted lower (some would argue "raced" lower is a more accurate description).

While the products looking to benefit on a volatility spike still attract inflows (otherwise their assets under management would be even lower), they have lost the competition to the VIX sellers.

The only other gap of similar size and duration was in late August 2015 – AFTER the market sold off and volatility spiked.

This time, it is occurring as stock markets are near all-time highs and VIX is still close to the all-time low it set just a few weeks ago (VIX is only calculated since 1990).

Whether this has finally reached a stage of complacency is anyone's guess, but the "Golden Goose" of selling VIX that I wrote about in March of this year – is clearly not a secret.

I'm not overly concerned about complacency, it is after all, a slow and typically low vol period for domestic markets, but it is something that investors need to focus on.

A spike in volatility could be far more problematic than the market is prepared for as even a small spike could turn into a larger problem with so many people positioned the other way.

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Maryland Schools Forced To Cancel Baltimore Field Trips Due To “Escalating Violence”

In light of the ongoing wave of violent crime in Baltimore, school officials in nearby Carroll County have been forced to halt school-related trips to the city – including a marching band’s scheduled performance in the Mayor’s Christmas Parade this weekend – citing “escalating violence.”  The field trip ban was imposed by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office “in response to parent concerns regarding the safety of students.”  Here’s more from The Baltimore Sun:

Schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said the order is based on a recommendation from the county Sheriff’s Office, and will stay in place until the beginning of the next semester in late January, when it will be revisited. She said the order was sent to school principals last week.

 

Sheriff James T. DeWees recommended the measure during a meeting with school system officials “in response to parent concerns regarding the safety of students during field trips to venues in Baltimore City,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. The move is intended to “limit the risk to students and staff.”

 

“In light of recent violence in the traditional tourist areas of the city, the sheriff agrees that the best course of action is to temporarily suspend travel to Baltimore City venues,” spokesman Cpl. Jonathan Light wrote in the statement.

Of course, as we pointed out recently (see: America’s Urban War Zone: Baltimore Doubles Chicago’s Homicide Rate In 2017), Baltimore is on track to exceed 400 homicides in 2017 for the first time in the city’s history and has more than doubled Chicago’s homicide rate on a per capita basis.

As the Sun notes, two field trips to Baltimore have been cancelled so far after parent’s received a rather disturbing email from Carroll County schools spokeswoman Cary Gaddis citing “escalating violence.”

Field trips are still being considered on a “case-by-case basis,” Gaddis said, but the policy has caused at least two forthcoming trips to be canceled: a planned field trip Friday to the Maryland Science Center by third-grade students from Westminster Elementary School, and Francis Scott Key High School’s band appearance in the Christmas parade in Hampden.

 

Both schools cited the county’s new policy as the reason for the cancellations.

 

“Due to escalating violence reported in Baltimore City, and consultation with law enforcement and Maryland Center for School Safety, we will not be sending any students on field trips to Baltimore City at this time,” said an email sent to Westminster parents and guardians Nov. 22.

 

“When they’re not contained but they’re walking around an area, walking around the city … we don’t have as much control,” she said. The Sheriff’s Office does not send a deputy along with students on field trips, she said.

Of course, support of the field trip ban is mixed with at least one Democratic legislator in Baltimore blasting the decision of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office as “misguided and disappointing” while declaring the city is “still a safe place to visit and walk around and explore our cultural sites”…

Delegate Brook Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat who lives downtown, called the notion that the city is unsafe for visitors “misguided and disappointing.”

 

“While we are experiencing an uptick in crime, there’s no denying that, it is still a safe place to visit and walk around and explore our cultural sites,” she said. “I love living in Downtown Baltimore and want and hope students from around the state can come visit the great neighborhoods and institutions we have in the city.”

 

Andy Smith, the Hampstead parent who sent the email to the sheriff and school officials, said he is satisfied with the school system’s decision.

 

“This is one of those things where being overly cautious is probably the best policy, rather than waiting for something to happen that you can’t undo,” Smith said.

 

“We’re trying to keep in mind the safety of our students,” she said. “That’s something we have to pay attention to.”

…it seems that Washington D.C. isn’t the only place where politicians find it convenient to ignore statistics.

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North Korea Warns “The Whole US Is In Range” After Successful Launch Of “New Type” Of ICBM

Following the successful test-firing of its longest range ICBM yet today, Yonhap News reports, citing North Korean media, that North Korea will make an important announcement at noon Seoul time (10:30pm ET).

Presumably, Kim's comments will be a braggadocio reaction to President Trump and General Mattis' comments (begins around 6:30):

Mattis warned "[North Korea] R&D is accelerating and they now appear to have the capability to launch an ICBM attack on anywhere in the world" to which Trump replied "we will take care of it… it is a situation we will handle."

Trump then tweeted later this evening: "After North Korea missile launch, it's more important than ever to fund our gov't & military! "

North Korea announces that it successfully test-fired a new type of ICBM today.

  • *N. KOREA SAYS IT FIRED NEW TYPE OF ICBM
  • *N. KOREA SAYS IT FIRED HWASONG-15 ICBM

  • *N. KOREA SAYS MISSILE LAUNCH WAS SUCCESSFUL
  • *N. KOREA: NEW ICBM HAS IMPROVED TECHNOLOGY
  • *N. KOREA: NEW ICBM PUTS WHOLE U.S. IN RANGE

  • *KIM JONG UN SAYS N. KOREA HAS BEGUN TO COMPLETE NUCLEAR PROGRAM

None of which is news as we already reported these details.

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“It’s All One Single, Giant $22 Trillion Position”: How Market Risk Became Systemic Risk

As excerpted from Fasanara Capital’s “Positive Feedback Loops and Financial Instability: the blind spot of policymakers.” The next time a Fed chair or macroprudential regulator argues that “there is no leverage in the market”, send them this.

QE and NIRP have two predominant effects on markets: (i) relentless up-trend in stocks and bonds (the ‘Trend Factor’), dominated by the buy-the-dip mentality, which encapsulates the ‘moral hazard’ of investors knowing Central Banks are prompt to come to their rescue (otherwise known as ‘Bernanke/Yellen/Kuroda/Draghi put’), and (ii) the relentless down-trend in volatility (the ‘Volatility Factor’).

The most fashionable investment strategies these days are directly impacted by either one or both of these drivers. Such strategies make the bulk of the overall market, after leverage or turnover is taken into account: we will refer to them in the following as ‘passive’ or ‘quasi-passive’. The trend impacts the long-only community, crowning it as a sure winner, making the case for low-cost passive investing. The low volatility permeates everything else, making the case for full-investment and leverage. The vast majority of investors these days are not independent from the QE environment they operate within: ETFs and index funds, Risk Parity funds and Target Volatility vehicles, Low Volatility / Short Volatility vehicles, trend-chasing algos, Machine Learning-inspired funds, behavioral Alternative Risk Premia funds. They are the poster children of the QE world. We estimate combined assets under management of in excess of $8trn across the spectrum. They form a broad category of ‘passive’ or ‘quasi-passive’ investors, as are being mechanically driven by two main factors: trend and volatility.

*  *  *

How Market Risk became Systemic Risk 

Let's give a cursory look at the main players involved. As markets trend higher, no matter what happens (ever against the shocked disbeliefs of Brexit, Trump, an Italian failed referendum and nuclear threats in North Korea), investors understand the outperformance that comes from pricing risks out of their portfolios entirely and going long-only and fully-invested. Whoever under-weighs positions in an attempt to be prudent ends up underperforming its benchmarks and is then penalized with redemptions. Passive investors who are long-only and fully invested are the winners, as they are designed to be bold and insensitive to risks. As Central Banks policies reduce the level of interest rates to zero or whereabouts, fees become ever more relevant, making the case for passive investing most compelling. The rise of ETF and passive index funds is then inevitable.

According to JP Morgan, in the last 10 years, $2trn left active managers in equities and $2trn entered passive managers. We may be excused for thinking they are the same $ 2trn of underlying investors progressively pricing risk provisions out of books, de facto, while chasing outperformance and lower fees.

To be sure, ETFs are a great financial innovation, helping reducing costs in an expensive industry and giving entry to markets previously un-accessible to most investors. Yet, what matters here is their impact on systemic risks, via positive feedback loops. In circular reference, beyond Central Banks flows, markets are helped rise by such classes of valuations-insensitive passive investors, which are then rewarded with further inflows, with which they can then buy more. The more expensive valuations get, the more they disconnect from fundamentals, the more divergence from equilibrium occurs, the larger fat-tail risks become.

In ever-rising markets, ‘buy-and-hold’ strategies may only possibly be outsmarted by ‘buy-the-dip’ strategies. Whatever the outcome of risk events, be ready to buy the dip quickly and blindly. As more investors design themselves up to do so, the dips are shallower over time, leading to an S&P500 that never lost 3% in 2017, an historical milestone. Machine learning is another beautiful market innovation, but what is there to learn from the time series of the last several years, if not that buy-the-dip works, irrespective of what caused the dip. Big Data is yet another great concept, shaping the future of us all. Yet, most data ever generated in humankind dates back three years only, in and by itself a striking limitation. The quality of the deduction cannot exceed the quality of the time series upon which the data science was applied. If the time series is untrustworthy, as is heavily influenced by monumental public flows ($300bn per months), what trust can we put on any model output originating from it? What pattern recognition can we really be hopeful of getting, in the first place? May some of it just be a commercial disguise for going long, selling volatility and leveraging up in various shapes or forms? What is hype and what is real? A short and compromised data series makes it hard, if not possible, to really know. Once public flows abate and price discovery is let free again, then and only then will we be in a position to know the difference.

Low volatility does what trending markets alone cannot. A state of low volatility presents the appearance of stuporous, innocuous, narcotized markets, thus enticing new swathes of unfitting investors in, mostly retail-type ‘weak hands’. Weak hands are investors who are brought to like investments by certain characteristics which are uncommon to the specific investment itself, such as featuring a low volatility. It is in this form that we see bond-like investors looking at the stock market for yield pick-up purposes, magnetized by levels of realized volatility similar to what fixed income used to provide with during the Great Moderation. It is in this form that Tech companies out of the US have started filling the coffers of not just Growth ETF, where they should rightfully reside, but also Momentum ETF, and even, incredibly, Low-Volatility ETF.

Low volatility is also a dominant input for Risk Parity funds and Target Volatility vehicles. The lower the volatility, the higher the leverage allowed in such players, mechanically. All of which are long-only players, joining public flows, again helping the market rise to record levels in the process, in circular reference. Rewarded by new inflows, the buying spree gathers momentum, in a virtuous circle. Valuations are no real inputs in the process, volatility is what matters the most. Volatility is not risk, except for them it is.

It goes further than that. It is not only the level of volatility that count, but its direction too. As volatility implodes, relentlessly, into historical lows never seen before in history, a plethora of investment strategies is launched to capitalize on just that, directly: Short Volatility vehicles. They are the best performing strategy of the last decade, by and large. The problem here is that, due to construction, as volatility got to single-digit territory, relatively small spikes are now enough to trigger wipe-out events on several of these instruments. Our analysis shows that if equity volatility Doubles up from current levels (while still being half of what it was as recently as in August 2015), certain Short Vol ETFs may stand to lose up to 75% or more. Moreover, short positions on long-vol ETFs can lose up to 250% of capital. For some, ‘termination events’ are built into contracts for sudden losses of this magnitude, meaning that the notes would be prematurely withdrawn. It is one thing to expect a spike in volatility to cause losses, it is quite another to know that a minor move is all it takes to trigger a default event.

On such spikes in volatility, Morgan Stanley Quant Derivatives Strategy desk warns further that market makers may be forced to rebalance their exposure non-linearly on a spike in volatility. A drop in the S&P 500 of 5% in one day may trigger approximately $ 400mn of Vega notional of rebalancing. We estimate that half a trillion dollars of additional selling on S&P stocks may occur following a correction of between 5% and 10%. That is a lot of selling, pre-set in markets, waiting to strike. Unless you expect the market to not have another 5% sell-off, ever again.

It’s All One Big Position

What do ETFs, Risk Parity and Target Vol vehicles, Low Vol / Short Vol vehicles, trend-chasing algos, Machine Learning, behavioral Alternative Risk Premia, factor investing have in common? Except, of course, being the ‘winners take all’ of QE-driven markets. They all share one or more of the following risk factors: long-only, fully invested when not leveraged-up, short volatility, short correlation, short gamma. Thanks to QE and NIRP, the whole market is becoming one single big position.

The ‘Trend Factor’ and the ‘Volatility Factor’ are over-whelming, making it inevitable for a high-beta, long-bias, short-vol proxy to disseminate across. Almost inescapably so, given the time series the asset management industry has to deal with, and derive its signals from.

Several classes of investors may move to sell in lock-steps if and when markets turn. The boost to asset prices and the zero-volatility environment created the conditions for systemic risks in the form of an over-compensation to the downside. Record-low volatility breeds market fragility, it precedes system instability.

Systemic Risk is Not Just About Banks: Look at Funds

The role of trending markets is known when it comes to systemic risks: a not sufficient but necessary condition. Most trends do not necessarily lead to systemic risks, but hardly systemic risks ever build up without a prolonged period of uptrend beforehand. Prolonged uptrends in any asset class hold the potential to instill the perception that such asset class will grow forever, irrespective of the fundamentals, and may thus lead to excessive risk taking, excess leverage, the formation of a bubble and, ultimately, systemic risks. The mind goes to the asset class of real estate, its undeterred uptrend into 2006/2007, its perception of perpetuity (”we have never had a decline in house  prices on a nationwide basis’’ Ben Bernanke), the credit bubble built on banks hazardous activities on subprime mortgages as a result, and the systemic risks which emanated, with damages spanning well beyond the borders of real estate.

The role of volatility is also well-researched, especially low volatility. Hayman Minsky, in his “Financial Instability Hypothesis’’ in 1977, analyses the behavioral changes induced by a reduction of volatility, postulating that economic agents observing a low risk are induced to increase risk taking, which may in turn lead to a crisis: “stability is destabilizing”. In a recent study, Jon Danielsson, Director of the Systemic Risk Centre at the LSE, finds unambiguous support for the ‘low volatility channel’, insofar as prolonged periods of low volatility have a strong predictive power over the incidence of a banking crisis, owing to excess lending and excess leverage. The economic impact is the highest if the economy stays in the low volatility environment for five years: a 1% decrease in volatility below its trend translates in a 1.01% increase in the probability of a crisis. He also finds that, counter-intuitively, high volatility has little predictive power: very interesting, when the whole finance world at large is based on retrospective VAR metrics, and equivocates high volatility for high risk.

Both a persistent trend and prolonged low-volatility can lead banks to take excessive risks. But what about their impact on the asset management industry?

Thinking at the hard economic impact of the Great Depression (1929-1932) and the Great Recession (2007-2009), and the eminent role played by banks in both, it comes as little surprise that the banking sector captures all the attention. However, what remains to be looked into, and perhaps more worrying in today’s environment, is the role of prolonged periods of uptrend and low-vol on the asset management industry.

In 2014, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an international body that makes recommendations to G20 nations on financial risks, published a consultation paper asking whether fund managers might need to be designated as “global systemically important financial institution” or G-SIFI, a step that would involve greater regulation and oversight. It did not result in much, as the industry lobbied in protest, emphasizing the difference between the levered balance sheet of a bank and the business of funds.

The reason for asking the question is evident: (i) sheer size, as the AM industry ballooned in the last few years, to now represent over 15trn for just the top 5 US players!, (ii) funds have partially substituted banks in certain market-making activities, as banks dialed back their participation in response to tighter regulation and (iii) , funds can indeed do damage: think of LTCM in 1998, the fatal bailout of two Real Estate funds by Bear Stearns in 2007, the money market funds ‘breaking the buck’ in 2008 amongst others.

But it is not just sheer size that matters for asset managers. What may worry more is the positive feedback loops discussed above and the resulting concentration of bets in one single global pot, life-dependent on infinite momentum/trend and ever-falling volatility. Positive feedback loops are the link for the sheer size of the AM industry to become systemically relevant. Today more than ever, they morph market risks in systemic risks.

Volatility will not forever be low, the trend will not forever go: how bad a damage when it stops? As macro prudential policy is not the art of “whether or not it will happen” but of “what happens if”, it is hard not to see this as a blind spot for policymakers nowadays.

The addiction that could not be let go

In conclusion, markets are being brought into an unstable equilibrium, at risk of snapping violently. The stability of markets resembles the one of a pendulum held in vertical position: a small disturbance is able to create large swings. The swing can be so violent as to send tremors across the real economy, thus jeopardizing the hard earned progress on recovery in growth rates and unemployment of recent years. If positive feedback loops are ignored and bubbles are left unchecked, that may one day most unambiguously qualify as a policy mistake: the addiction to monetary steroids and price control that could not be let go, on time. A bust that was entirely predictable, if only macropru conditions had been a real target, and short termism had not prevailed.

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Blowback: CNN Pushes Plan To “Ban The Term ‘Fake News’”

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via InfoWars.com,

CNN is now pushing an effort to “ban the term fake news” after the slogan became synonymous with CNN itself thanks to President Donald Trump.

In a CNN opinion piece written by Hossein Derakhshan and Claire Wardle, who are affiliated with the globalist Council of Europe, the authors argue that the term “fake news” has “become meaningless” and lost its power because politicians (primarily Donald Trump) have hijacked it as a way to “undermine” the media establishment.

The authors decry the fact that many people now believe the mainstream media peddles “fabricated stories” and that information monopolies are being challenged by the ability for “anyone in the world” to have a platform.

Complaining that “less powerful agents can harm large institutions or established individuals,” Derakhshan and Wardle warn that trust in institutions is declining and that only through intervention at the level of “public education” (ie indoctrination) can this be reversed.

Of course, the real reason media elites want to clamp down on the term “fake news” is because its original intention, to smear and discredit opponents of Hillary Clinton, right of center media outlets, and people who distrust the mainstream media, has completely backfired.

This was illustrated yet again by Donald Trump’s tweet earlier today when he suggested that a “fake news trophy” should be awarded to the network that has been responsible for the most inaccurate reporting.

“Fake news” was one of many excuses trotted out after November last year to push the narrative that President Trump’s election was somehow illegitimate.

In reality, a major Stanford University study found that “even the most widely circulated fake news stories were seen by only a small fraction of Americans,” and that the most widely believed fake news stories were those that benefited Hillary Clinton.

Fake news had virtually no impact on the election, but the establishment media weaponized the term as part of an agenda to silence and censor voices of dissent, including media platforms, that had opposed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In addition, mainstream media news coverage in the weeks leading up to the election was 91% negative towards Trump, according to a study by the Media Research Center.

The Podesta emails also revealed how mainstream journalists were completely in bed with the Clinton campaign and even ran stories by them before publication.

The “fake news” narrative has completely backfired on the political establishment and the media because it has acted as a boomerang, showing the mainstream media to be the most consistently dishonest entity of all.

Is it any wonder therefore that the political class is now so keen to retire the term altogether?

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Goldman: The Last Time This Happened Was Just Months Before The Start Of The Great Depression

Ah Goldman, never change.

One week after Goldman’s chief equity strategist David Kostin predicted a three-year bull market of “rational exuberance“, lifting his 2018 S&P price target from 2,500 to 2,850 rising to 3,100 in 2020, and stating that should the exuberance turn “irrational”, the S&P could rise as high as 5,300 by the end of 2020, another Goldman strategist, Christian Mueller-Glissmann, has decided it may be a good idea to play bad cop and cover all bases.

And so, in a report released on Tuesday “The Balanced Bear – Part 1: Low(er) returns and latent drawdown risk” this now bearish Goldmanite warns that in the medium-term, the two likely scenarios are either i) a “slow pain” deflation scenario of low yields and high valuations “which persist as macro is stable but there are less windfall gains from rising valuations and less carry – as a result, returns are likely to be lower across assets”, or ii) a “fast pain” drawdown scenario in which there is “either a material negative growth or inflation/rate shock, or a combination of both, which drives a drawdown in 60/40 portfolios.”

For those confused, don’t worry – you read it right. While on one hand Goldman is predicting nothing but blue skies for the “medium-term” of the next three years, predicting no recession and double digit equity upside, at the very same time, the very same Goldman is also forecasting either a “slow” or “fast” pain scenario, which while different, share one thing in common (as the name implies): “pain.”

No surprise, Goldman talking out of both sides of its mouth, the only question being while the client-facing “research” is obviously crap and meant to get clients to do the opposite of what Goldman’s prop traders are doing, it remains debatable on what side Goldman’s prop is axed. Is the bank pulling a CDO and shorting everything it sells to its clients, or has the bank assured further S&P upside, even as valuations no “longer make sense” to quote, well, Goldman?

We don’t know the answer, nor do we care. For those who do, here is Mueller-Glissmann summary:

We think a period of low(er) returns (scenario 1) is more likely than a full-fledged bear market in 60/40 portfolios (scenario 2), at least in the near term. But there will likely be a balancing act with slowing growth and rising inflation. And at current low yield levels and with the ‘beginning of the end of QE’, bonds might be less effective hedges for equities and are likely a larger drag on balanced portfolios. And rising inflation could move the central bank put ‘more out of the money’, requiring a larger ‘growth shock’ for central banks to ease policy. Also current easing options are more limited for central banks as rates are still low and QE purchases have only just been reduced.

 

And once the balanced bear comes, it might be larger and faster. Duration risk in bond markets is much higher this cycle and vol of vol in equities has increased since the mid-80s. While we think investors should lower duration and run higher equity allocations in scenario 1, they should consider hedging at least the risk of smaller equity drawdowns in the near term. We like shorter-dated S&P 500 put spreads. In part 2, we intend to explore different strategies to enhance balanced portfolio returns while managing drawdown risk in case of a bear market.

Ultimately, like every other forecast to come out of Goldman, it’s garbage: want bullish, read Kostin; want bearish – either a little or lot – stick to Glissman. Just remember to use your friendly, Goldman salesperson who will gladly collect the trade commission whatever you do.

That said, there was one useful data point in the 26 page pdf: a chart showing that not only are we nearing the longest 60/40 bull market without a 10% return drawdown, but that the last time we were here was sometime in the late 1920s… and the Great Depression would follow in just a few months.

As Goldman observes: “we are closing in on the longest 60/40 bull market in history there has been no 10% drawdown in real terms since 2009. A passive long-only balanced portfolio has delivered attractive risk-adjusted returns since the 90s. A favourable ‘Goldilocks’ macro backdrop, supported by the ‘Great Moderation’ and the central bank put, has boosted returns in both equities and bonds. However, after the recent ‘bull market in everything’, valuations across assets are as expensive as they have been this century, which reduces the potential for returns and diversification in balanced portfolios.

Some more statistics:

We are nearing the longest bull market for balanced equity/bond portfolios in over a century – a simple 60/40 portfolio (60% S&P 500, 40% US 10-year bonds) has not had a drawdown of more than 10% since the GFC trough (8.7 years) and has delivered a 143% return (11% p.a.) since then.

And when was the last time a balance portfolio had such a tremendous return? Goldman answers again:

“The longest run has been during  the Roaring 20s, ending with the Great Depression. The second longest run was the post-war ‘Golden age’ in the 50s – the 90s Boom has been in third place but is now fourth, after the current run.

In other words, one would have to go back to some time in early 1929 to be looking at the kind of returns that a balanced “60/40” portfolio is generating today.  In fact, the current period of staggering returns without a 10% total drawdown is now 8.7 years. How long was the comparable period in the 1928s? 9.1 years. Which means that if history is any guide, the second great depression is just around the corner.

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Tilt! Game Over…

Authored by Jeff Thomas via InternationalMan.com,

Anyone who’s ever played a pinball machine can attest to the fact that the player easily becomes wrapped up in it, to the point of the exclusion of all else happening around him. He hits the flippers rapidly, glancing up from time to time at his increasing score. It becomes irresistible to jiggle the table frequently, in an effort to get the ball to go where the player wants it to go.

And, of course, every player is familiar with the disappointment that comes when he’s overplayed his body English and the machine stops suddenly, lighting up a sign that says, “Tilt! Game Over.”

Much of the world is now embroiled in an economic game similar to pinball. The stakes are becoming ever greater, the flipper buttons are being pressed ever faster, and those who are desperately attempting to keep the collapsing system going are shoving the table ever more recklessly.

At this point in the world economy, the number of possible triggers that could take the system down is growing ever more rapidly.

And, for those who are paying attention, the list of dominoes that we’ll see fall is becoming ever more starkly apparent. Let’s have a look at just some of the more basic dominoes:

  • Creditor countries dumping US Treasuries back into the US market. (This has already begun and will continue until the dollar crashes.)
  • Cessation of the US dollar as the petrodollar. (This is about to begin, but will take several years to play out fully.)
  • Economic sanctions by the US against Russia and China (that are unlikely to have the support of the US’s allies).
  • Implementation of tariffs, resulting in a tariff war.
  • A rise in interest rates (as was consciously created in 1929 by the Fed in order to trigger a timed crash).
  • Bursting of the bond market bubble.
  • A major stock market crash.
  • Dramatic increase in mortgage defaults.
  • A spike in commodity prices, coinciding with a drop in asset values (inflation and deflation at the same time—the worst possible combination).
  • Collapse of the paper gold market.
  • A switch to the new IMF cryptocurrency and a major effort to end the use of cash. (This will succeed to some extent, but will create a worldwide monetary black market.)
  • US defaults on its debt. (This, too, will occur over several years.)
  • Collapse of the dollar.

Many of these events will be black swans.

As can be expected, some of the events will be sudden, whilst others will take time to play out. In addition, although they’re likely to occur roughly in order, several will be in play at any given time.

Although each of these events can be anticipated, they won’t come with warning notices. Their actual occurrences will be unheralded. (As an example, when a stock market crash occurs, investors will wake up to discover that it’s occurred whilst they were sleeping.)

And, just as in pinball, the end of the game will come quite suddenly. The moment that the player will know that it’s “Game Over” will be when he goes to his ATM and finds that the screen is dark. The machine has been made inoperative overnight. Annoyed, he’ll go to the next-nearest ATM, but will find that that one, too, is shut down. He’ll go to others and, at some point, will realise that they’re all shut down.

Without spending cash in his wallet, he’ll then go to the local gas station or supermarket and attempt to pay with his credit cards but will find that they’ve all been made inactive. In trying to sort out the problem with the manager, he’ll be told that all credit cards for all his customers have been denied that day.

The realization will suddenly hit that money has ceased to flow. For how long? The television news programmes will state that it will be temporary, but they don’t define “temporary.”

Those few individuals who understood that an economic crisis was brewing will take inventory of how much cash they have remaining in their wallets and how much they’ve stashed at home, and realise that this total now represents their total purchasing power.

Overnight, wealth is no longer measured in saleable assets, since, if virtually no one has spending money, they have no means of payment. Therefore, the fellow who thought that, if he found himself in a pinch, he could always sell the Harley in the driveway, or perhaps the family boat, for some quick cash, can no longer locate a buyer who can pay him—at any price.

Of course, many people will do all they can to contact their bankers, demanding that they be allowed to remove their money on deposit and extract the contents of their safe deposit boxes, but they’ll receive a recording, saying, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience, but the bank will be temporarily closed until further notice.”

At this point, “wealth” will change its definition to include only the cash in hand, plus whatever might be bartered.

Recently, I received an email from an associate in Canada, who asked, “When will I know when I really have to make a move?” My answer was, “You won’t. But there will be an actual day when you’ll know that you’ve waited too long and it’s now too late. That day will be the day that you visit the ATM and find it closed.”

That’s it. “Game Over.”

So, are we all doomed? Well, no, not at all. Those who are proactive can remove themselves from the system now, before the system reaches the “Tilt!”

If the reader lives in one of the jurisdictions that’s likely to be the most impacted (EU, US, Canada, etc.), he would be wise to liquidate his possessions there and move the proceeds to a jurisdiction that’s less likely to be impacted and which has a long reputation for economic stability. He should place his wealth (no matter how great or little) in precious metals and real estate overseas—again, in a safer jurisdiction.

He should retain some money (in cash and precious metals) at home, or nearby—enough to cover a few months’ expenses.

If he can afford to, he should then create a bolt-hole in a jurisdiction that he can go to quickly, should the crisis overtake him.

However, even those who recognize that their home country may soon become an economic prison camp are likely to dither, failing to prepare adequately. Sadly, they’re likely to find themselves in the position of the fellow in the photo above, discovering that “Game Over” has arrived before he could ready himself.

*  *  *

This isn’t all bad news. A select group of investors will not only endure the collapse—they’ll actually come out the other side much wealthier. There are practical steps you can start taking today to make yourself one of them. Find out how in our Guide to Surviving and Thriving During an Economic Collapse. Click here to download your free PDF copy now.

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Five Ways To Short Bitcoin

Looking to put bitcoin’s rise in context? How about this: Over the last five years, the world’s most valuable digital currency has risen an astonishing 11,000,000%. Furthermore, since Jan. 1, it has climbed 950%, compared with a total return of 18% for the S&P 500.

Given the torrid pace of bitcoin’s climb, one would imagine that there are few traders left who possess the wherewithal to short the digital currency. And until recently, the options to short bitcoin were mostly offered through unregulated exchanges, and very risky given bitcoin’s volatility.

But increasingly, mainstream exchanges have begun offering bitcoin-based derivatives that could make it easier for retail traders to short the digital currency. CME Group has said it will introduce a suite of bitcoin-linked products by the end of the year, and LedgerX, the first CFTC-approved Swap Execution Facility (or SEF), traded more than $1 million in bitcoin swaps and options during its first week.

In Switzerland, one exchange has introduced options that make it easier for investors to profit if the bitcoin price drops. But other more creative ways to short the digital currency have existed for a while now – in some cases, for years.

“All the options to short in common markets are becoming available in the bitcoin market,” said Charles Hayter, co-founder of market tracker CryptoCompare. “There’s pretty good liquidity for shorting bitcoin. The main difference with shorting the Nasdaq for example, is it will be a lot more volatile, so there’s a lot more risk. The rate to borrow will also be a bit higher."

With bitcoin on the cusp of breaking above $10,000 for the first time, here’s a list of popular options for shorting bitcoin, per Bloomberg.

Contracts for Difference

"One of the most popular ways to short bitcoin is through CFDs, a derivative that mirrors the movements of the asset. It’s a contract between the client and the broker, where the buyer and seller of the CFD agree to settle any rise or drop in prices in cash on the contract date.

'CFD is currently a great market if you want to short bitcoin, especially ahead of that milestone 10K mark, which we think will bring some retracement,' said Naeem Aslam, a chief market analyst at TF Global Markets in London, which offers the contracts. 'The break could push the price well above $10,100 and it would be in that area when we could see some retracement.'"

Margin Trading

"Another common way to short bitcoin is through margin trading, which allows investors to borrow the cryptocurrency from a broker to make the trade. The trade goes both ways; a trader can also increase their long or short position through leverage. Depending on the funds kept as collateral to pay back the debt, this option increases the already risky bitcoin trade. Bitfinex, one of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, requires initial equity of 30 percent of the position.

Short-margin trading positions on Bitfinex were at around 19,188 bitcoins on Monday, versus 23,931 long positions, according to bfxdata.com, which tracks data on the bourse."

Borrow to Short Bitcoin

"Most of the brokerages that allow margin trading will also let clients borrow bitcoin to short with no leverage. This will be a less risky way to bet bitcoin price will fall."

Futures Contracts

"The futures market isn’t as widely developed as CFDs and margin trading, but it’s still possible to make bearish bets on bitcoin with options. For now, LedgerX is the only regulated exchange and clearing agent for cryptocurrency options in the U.S. The CME Group Inc. and the Chicago Board Options Exchange have both asked for approval to list bitcoin futures, so that may open up the market to more investors."

Shorting Bitcoin ETNs

"Investors can also indirectly bet against bitcoin by shorting exchange traded notes with exposure to the cryptocurrency, like Stockholm-based Bitcoin Tracker One, and Grayscale Investments LLC’s Bitcoin Investment Trust. The risk is that these notes don’t always trade in line with bitcoin, so the exposure won’t be perfect."

* * *

Yesterday, Citadel’s Ken Griffin opined that he believes bitcoin is a bubble that will end in tears, joining a list of finance luminaries who have all expressed reservations about the digital currency’s epic rally.

As a reminder:

$0000 – $1000: 1789 days
$1000- $2000: 1271 days
$2000- $3000: 23 days
$3000- $4000: 62 days
$4000- $5000: 61 days
$5000- $6000: 8 days
$6000- $7000: 13 days
$7000- $8000: 14 days
$8000- $9000: 9 days
$9000-$10000: ?

The rise is even making some central bankers nervous. “The problem with bitcoin is that it could easily blow up and central banks could then be accused of not doing anything,” European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny told Reuters.

But in his confirmation hearing earlier today, incoming Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said bitcoin is still too small to pose a real threat.

"They don’t really matter today," Mr. Powell said. "They’re just not big enough."

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WTI Sinks After Surprise Crude Build

Despite UAE oil minister jawboning, WTI/RBOB was sold today heading into the API data and extended losses after crude showed a surprise build (+1.82mm vs -2.95mm exp). Cushing saw a massive destocking and RBOB was steady after gasoline showed a surprise draw.

 

API

  • Crude +1.82mm (-2.95mm exp)
  • Cushing -3.178mm – most since Sept 2009
  • Gasoline -1.529mm (+1.2mm exp)
  • Distillates +2.696mm (+200k exp) – biggest since July

Following last week's small crude draw and gasoline build, hope was high but API showed a surprise crude build (and surprise gasopline draw)…

 

The kneejerk reaction to the API was WTI lower and RBOB higher

“Everyone’s focus is on OPEC,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund, in a telephone interview. “The takeway is, it’s not going to be a clean nine-month extension and that’s why you are seeing downward pressure here. We know that the Russian oil companies are pushing back on extending this thing through all of next year.”

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