All posts by NY Times Bestselling author Lawrence McDonald

Larry McDonald; founder of THE BEAR TRAPS REPORT investment letter, is a political policy risk consultant to hedge funds, family offices, asset managers and high net worth investors. As former Managing Director, Head US Macro Strategy at Societe Generale, he's a frequent guest contributor on Bloomberg TV, CNBC, Fox Business, and the BBC. Larry is a NY Times bestselling author, his book "Colossal Failure of Common Sense" is now translated into 12 languages. He ran a $500 million proprietary trading book at Lehman Brothers, made over $75 million betting against the subprime mortgage crisis and was consistently one of the most profitable traders in the firm. His "Bear Traps" letter is one of the most highly regarded on Wall St. He's participated in 3 major financial crisis documentaries: Sony Pictures, Academy Award winning documentary the "Inside Job," BBC‘s "The Love of Money" and CBC‘s "House of Cards." He's delivered over 72 keynote speeches in 17 different countries, at Banks, Investment Firms, Conferences, Law Firms, Insurance Companies and Universities.

China: As the Fastest Growth Economy on Earth takes Leverage Down, What’s the Impact?

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De-leveraging in China kicked off this Week

They are trying to thread a very fine needle in China right now, credit risk is surging to two-year highs.

– After China’s 19th Congress meeting of political leaders in October – we’re seeing sweeping regulations focused on curbing financial risk.  New rules are appearing – they cover over $15T asset management products.  A colossal deleveraging is in the works.

– PBOC (China’s Central Bank)  will drive the bus through there Financial Stability Board.

Credit Risk on the Rise in China


This week’s fears pushed China government bond yields to a 3-year high, taking U.S.  two year Treasury bond yields north with them.

  • Very quietly, late this week the PBOC launched a $50B lifeline into their grossly leveraged banking system, the natives are growing more restless by the day.  This was the largest injection of emergency cash in the last year.

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Ackman’s Positive Look over Fannie Mae $FNMA

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In cooperation with ACG Analytics in Washington, we advise institutional investors globally on the GSEs (Government Sponsored Entities) with a focus on Fannie Mae $FNMA.

In recent weeks, the Senate Banking Committee has been working on a regulatory relief bill, while Chairman Mike Crapo is optimistic that a deal on housing finance reform could be next on the agenda (2018).  African Americans make up 13% of U.S. Population, but received around 3% of 2014-15 conforming loans (HUD data) – the system is broken and fueling inequality.

Down from the Pre-Financial Crisis Highs

AIG $AIG -96.4%
Fannie $FNMA -96.3%*
Royal Bank Scotland $RBS -95.2%
Citi $C -87.2%
Deutsche Bank $DB -84.6%
Bank of Amer $BAC -51.6%
Morgan Stanley $MS -47.1%

*Over the years we’ve witnessed extreme risk and volatility in these Fannie Mae $FNMA shares – 2017 was no exception.  Bloomberg data above.

Below is a recap of Pershing Square’s view of the current investment landscape (risks and opportunities) facing the GSEs.

These “positive developments” are listed in Bill Ackman’s Q3 Letter to investors:

(1) a Republican National Committee resolution made public on September 13, 2017, that seeks to protect taxpayers by restoring safety and soundness to the GSEs, calls for Fannie and Freddie to be “permitted to rebuild equity capital,” and recognizes that Treasury can generate “an estimated $100 billion in additional cash profits by monetizing its warrants for 79.9% of each company’s common stock;”

(2) a September 13, 2017, letter from six Democratic Senators to the Treasury Secretary and FHFA Director “requesting that the GSEs be permitted to build capital” to prevent a future draw on Treasury’s line of credit;

(3) testimony from FHFA Director Mel Watt to the House Financial Services Committee on October 3, 2017, in which Director Watt outlined the extensive reforms that have taken place at the GSEs during their nine-plus year conservatorship, stated that required minimum capital levels for Fannie and Freddie should be “in the range of 2 to 3 percent,” and hinted at some form of initial capital retention in the coming months; and

(4) comments from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in mid-October that housing finance reform would be the next priority after tax reform, and that Fannie and Freddie would not be in conservatorship by the end of his initial four-year term. All of the above are broadly consistent with the key principles which we have been advocating since the inception of our investment in late 2013.

Senator Corker announced in late September that he will not seek re-election in 2018, and will leave the Senate upon expiry of his current term at the end of next year. Senator Corker has been one of the leading voices in Congress on housing finance reform for the last several years, and we believe that he would like to see this issue resolved before his retirement. He and his colleague Senator Warner have suggested that they will soon put forth new bipartisan legislation regarding housing finance reform, for which they should have the support of Secretary Mnuchin after the tax reform initiative concludes. In the meantime, the intrinsic earnings power of both entities continues to increase, driven by growth and improved credit quality in their core single-family guarantee businesses.

Fannie Mae $FNMA Equity, 38% Off this Year’s High

Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management owns 44.7 million shares of FNMA, per the Bloomberg terminal.  The LIFO cost basis is listed at $3.37 acquired over the last two years. This week, shares closed below their 200-day moving average.  In the past five years, Fannie Mae crossed below this level 26 times and fell an average 1.7 percent in the next five days. It declined 17 times for an average loss of 3.9 percent, and advanced eight times for an average gain of 2.9 percent.

Nearly ten years after the financial crisis, Fannie and Freddie are still in “conservatorship.”  This is the question that has many investors globally scratching their heads.  Fannie and Freddie are still sweeping $25B a year to the U.S. Treasury, nearly $300B total (since heading the financial crisis).  Few Americans realize, how to spend funds is at the President’s complete discretion.  Boy did the Obama administration love this gravy train.

“Fannie Freddie will NOT be left in conservatorship” 

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin,  Bloomberg

Dodd-Frank has banks retaining capital at 20-year highs while Fannie and Freddie are retaining zero capital on $5T loan portfolio?  The risks to the U.S. taxpayers here is COLOSSAL.  There’s NO capital retention.

GSEs: “Fannie-Freddie Might Need $100B in the next Crisis”, FHFA Says

Policymakers also face a deadline of sorts. Fannie and Freddie are set to run out of capital early next year and would have to draw on Treasury if they suffered quarterly losses, a move that could spook the mortgage market. Lawmakers are hoping to cut a deal before that happens.



A Surge in the Cost of Default Protection, Saudi Arabia

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In recent years there’s been a strong relationship between oil prices and the cost of Saudi Arabia credit default protection.  Lower oil prices have consistently been tied to higher default risk.  Today, we’re seeing an entirely different, disturbing picture – oil prices have surged with default risks.  This speaks to rising geopolitical credit risk.

A Surge in the Cost of Default Protection, Saudi Arabia
The cost of insuring Saudi Arabian debt from default is approaching two-year highs, even as oil prices globally are ripping upward.   On our Bloomberg terminal, five-year CDS soared another 20 basis points last week.  On the heels of a destabilizing “anti-corruption” purge in the kingdom, credit risk is on the rise. Increasing tensions with Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group, have compounded investor concerns about rising political risks in the region. The last time the nation’s CDS jumped as much in a single week was in January 2016 at the height of the oil-market crash.  Back then, Brent was $27, compared to $64 last week.  The Kingdom’s debt profile has broadly expanded.  Public debt outstanding in 2014 was down at $44B, today she’s approaching $300B, per Bloomberg data.




The Power of Drawdowns #Bitcoin #Amazon #FAANGS

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The immortal Jackie Gleason once said, “the only problem with losing 50% is… you need double to get it all back.”

Late this week, Bitcoin dropped under $7,000, to trade nearly 20% below Wednesday’s all-time high.  That shaved well over $1,000 off her sky-high price.

In a tweet in July, we called for a bounce – noted bitcoin’s support level down near its 100-day moving average.  Today, this level appears miles away at $4119 ($6581 Friday’s close), but as history’s lesson – she can be there in a New York minute.

Bitcoin dropped to $6,418 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange by 1200 GMT Friday, before recovering a touch to trade at $6,664 only minutes later.  A violent week indeed.

Famous Asset Bubbles within 9 Yrs of Peak

Bitcoin 2011-2017: 66x
Tulip Mania 1617-1622: 53x
Nasdaq 1991-1999: 13x
Oil 2001-2008: 7x
Silver 2004-2013: 6x
Miami Condo Mkt 1998-2007: 6x
Nikkei 1982-1990: 5x
Nasdaq 100: 2009-2017 5x
US Stocks Dow 1921-1929: 5x

“But, but but… Bitcoin is the future” the young man screamed across the room.  The thing about manias comes down to measuring just how much goodwill is priced in?  The Amazon AMZN lesson is an investor classic. From June in 1997 to June in 1999 the stock was 7100% higher (yes 71x!) – only to lose 95% of its value by 2001. In took over a decade but Amazon was able to take out its 1999 high by early 2010. Eleven years of growth was priced into its first two years as a publicly traded company. Ultimately, the equity grew into its expected growth profile, but this lesson remains one for Bitcoin investors today. In determining your entry point into a once a decade secular trend, we must determine how much is priced in relative to the long-term upside. Bottom line: most investors DO NOT have the patience to capture long-term gains once a major drawdown takes hold.

Bitcoin’s $7882.10 perch was reached Wednesday after a software upgrade anticipated for next week  – would have split the cryptocurrency in two,  news of a suspension triggered a relief surge.

The Rocky Trading History of Bitcoin
A 2013 investment in bitcoin took nearly three years to get back to even after a nearly 80% loss.  Indeed, Bitcoin is not for the faint of heart. 

FAANG Equities

Netflix $NFLX 2008-2017: 78x
Amazon $AMZN 2008-2017: 31x
Apple $AAPL 2009-2017: 14x
Facebook $FB: 2012-2017: 9x
Google $GOOGL 2008-2017: 7x

FAANG equities are a POUNDING the table, screaming sell.  Since 2010, Amazon has had six drawdowns of 15 to 30%, three of which were thirdy percent.  Sit in the boat and buy fear in fangs.  



Data Pointing to (further) Bond Yield Spike

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“In the coming weeks, we expect a super mean reversion. This summer’s weak inflation data (CPI, PPI, PCE, AHE) is unsustainable in our view.  U.S. economic data (Citi Economics Surprise Index), the level of expected Fed hawkishness (less accommodation), Washington policy (fiscal policy expectations) have all moved sharply lower with remarkable cohesion. They’re singing the same song.  At the same time, geopolitical risks have surged to their highest level of 2017 – suppressing bond yields.   The perfect storm of good news for bond bulls has run its course.   We are bond bears – looking for higher yields – out over the next 90 days.”

The Bear Traps Report, August 30, 2017

Friday we learned U.S. unemployment declined to 4.2% in September, from 4.4% the previous month – the lowest level since 2001.

AHE’s Move North

Average Hourly Earnings surged 12 cents in September to $26.55. That was the largest move higher since 2007.  For the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, wages were up 2.9%, well above the low inflation rate.

Sell Off in US Treasuries Meets Resistance

The U.S. 10-year treasury yield has surged up to an important Fibonacci resistance level near 2.39%.  As we examine treasury futures using the Bloomberg terminal,  TY1 has reached important lows recorded in July and May at 124-25+/124-23.  Lower bond prices meet higher yields indeed.   After the yield spike – since September 8, the Bloomberg Barclays Global-Aggregate Market Value of Bonds has lost nearly $1.5T.  

It’s clear, labor force participation is moving higher for the young and able – this development has wages heading north.  Bottom line, when measuring risks to higher bond yields, Average Hourly Earnings AHE is far more important today than the actual jobs number.

Rate Backup Victims Include Commercial Real Estate

Since September 8, the yield on the 10 year US Treasury bond has surged from 2.01% to 2.39%, while the Real Estate Select Sector SPDR Fund XLRE is nearly 5% lower.  In interest rate futures, the probability of a December Fed rate hike has surged from 21% to 80% – large cap REITS have been one of the big losers on the follow.  Technically, the XLRE is on a key level – a possible trend line violation (top right above) has longs nervous.

Yelvington’s AHE Revisions

An important observation from our associate Brian Yelvington, we must NOT overlook the July Average Hourly Earnings AHE revision (see the chart below – yellow line), the revisions’ IMPACT is impressive.

A Colossal Bounce in the Revised Data

Average Hourly Earnings AHE risk to higher bond yields is real.  Lost in all the noise this week are these meaningful developments.  Not only did September print at 0.5% but August was revised to 0.2% (from 0.1%) and July to 0.5% (from 0.3%). Inflation has finally arrived!

Fed’s Rosengren Saturday

“Already-tight labor markets are likely to tighten further as the economy continues to grow faster than its potential.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said on Saturday.


Rosengren is not a voting member of the rate-setting FOMC this year.

Data Pointing to (further) Bond Yield Spike

The relationship between 25-54-year-olds actually in the labor force to Average Hourly Earnings points to a coming problem for bond yields.   As labor force slack has been chewed up, AHE’s summer reversal (bounce) speaks to bad news for the crowded long duration trade.

Correlation US Treasury Bond Yields vs Gold*

2017: -0.81%
2016: -0.62%
2015: -0.45%
2014: -0.32%
2013: -0.23%
2012: +0.21%

*Rolling 1 Year, Bloomberg – Citi data

Investors in the gold trade are just starting to realize, they’re not trading gold they’re trading (interest) rates.  The negative correlation between higher bond yields and lower gold prices has exploded in recent years, north of 80%.  Gold prices are clearly rates driven – since the September 8 reversal higher in bond yields, gold prices (XAU) are 7.1% lower (gold miners GDX -10.1%).

Inflation Expectations

Low inflation expectations in the marketplace have been a trouble spot for the Fed.  Sure, inflation has remained tame throughout most of this year – but recent price action is getting attention.  Since August, the surge in breakeven rates, a gauge of US inflation expectations, is a foundation of hope for dollar bulls. The 5-year 5-year forward breakeven rate is near 1.90%, well above the June lows.  The possible wedge break (above in the purple circle) is a key technical level.  A break above into new real estate will put the Fed on notice that market participants are taking inflation far more seriously.  This is something which will draw more rate hikes (raise expectations) out of the FOMC in our view.  

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Hot Hot Hot, China Inflation Data

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HOT Data:  In China, the producer price index rose 6.3 percent in August from a year earlier, versus an estimated 5.7 percent in a Bloomberg survey and a 5.5 percent July reading.

Weak Dollar Side Effects: PPI exceeded all but one of 38 estimates in Bloomberg’s survey of economists.

China Inflation: The consumer price index climbed 1.8 percent, compared with 1.4 percent a month earlier, the statistics bureau said Saturday.

China Producer Price Index (Output)

Deep inside the Federal Reserve, there’s a growing concern. Commodity prices are rising at the fastest pace in five years.  The global reflation picture is nearly on the Fed’s doorstep.  In our view, there’s a surging probability the Fed gets thrown off track in 2H 2017.  They are behind the curve relative to suppressed market expectations* (outlook for low inflation) – which the Fed has fostered, embraced and enabled.  Over the last decade, we’ve learned academics at central banks are poor risk managers – especially when it comes to misjudging sharp moves in the U.S. dollar.

*Thanks to dovish Fed guidance (leaving the punch bowl filled at the party far too long – more accommodation), the interest rates futures market now sees September 2018 (yes 2018!) as the earliest FOMC rate hike (with >50% chance of Fed hike).  A year from now, the FOMC will have serious regrets looking back on their latest policy moves.  Nearly 10 years after Lehman, it’s sad – they have NOT learned the error of their ways.

As Long Time Bond Bulls, we’re Now Bears – The Fed is Behind the Curve

If we look back at the 2014-2016 regime and ask what did the Wall Street’s economists get most wrong in “trying to read” the Fed?  Far and away the answer to this question is found in global economic (disinflation) pressures.  Back then, U.S. economists were far too focused on “robust” domestic (U.S.) economic data.  The Fed coached them into looking for 12 (yes twelve!) rates hikes (2014-2016) – while ultimately the central bank only delivered two.

Global Economic Strength

In August, China reported imports up 13.3 percent in dollar terms. Street forecasts were looking for a 10.0 percent move higher in the same period.  Keep in mind, since January, China imports have sustained 11% growth.  This is the most impressive level of sustained trade growth we’ve seen in six years.

China Imports, Strong thanks to a Weak U.S. Dollar

Friday’s strong (August) import data, points to domestic demand in China far more resilient than expected in the second half of 2017.  China can thank the Fed and a weak U.S. dollar in our view.  We must NEVER forget, the Federal Reserve is conducting monetary policy in an $80T global economy, NOT a petri dish.  As the Fed attempted to hike rates 2014-2016, the dollar surged and the global economy suffered (see above – left). Today, as the Fed has dramatically softened the rate hike outlook – the dollar plunged (top – right) and the global economy is picking up steam (see above – bottom right).  In the months ahead, it will be pure entertainment – watching the Fed try and deal with this global economic feedback loop back yet again.

Policy Path Veto

It’s clear, the lessons from 2014-2016 come down to the “global economic picture” overpowering the Federal Reserve’s STATED policy path.  In the end, the global wrecking ball found in U.S. dollar side effects – vetoed the Fed’s beloved rate hikes.

From 2014 – 2016, U.S. economists were blinded by the positive U.S. data and couldn’t see the deteriorating global macro risk factors tied to the U.S. dollar’s violent surge (see above).  Global economic weakness was a colossal drag on Fed policy – eventually forced the central bankers to lay down on their loudly promised rate hikes.  The old Lucy and the Football, “sorry Charlie Brown.”

$80 Trillion Global GDP

Outside the USA: $62T*
Inside the USA: $18T

Why are U.S. economists so myopically focused on U.S. economic data?  It’s 2017, NOT 1997.  Bloomberg GDP data.  The St. Louis Fed Real GDP Nowcast Model Sees U.S. Q3 GDP up at nearly 3.7%.  The question no one is asking: If economic growth is picking up sharply in the $62T bucket above, how with that impact the $18T economic output in the USA and Fed policy???

*11% plunge in the dollar (in 8 months) is fueling growth here.

Twelve Rate Hikes 2014-2016?

Of course, Lucy became the FOMC and Wall Street’s economists were poor Charlie Brown.

The Ultimate Question of 2017?

If global – strong dollar induced – disinflation pressures (2014-2016) vetoed the Fed’s widely advertised policy path (beloved rate hikes), why won’t global – weak dollar induced – inflation pressures today do the same (force more rate hikes)?  How do you spell complacency?  Wall Street expectations for this year have moved from 4 rate hikes to just two?  If you look at the December euro dollar contract – in just three months – we’ve moved from a 70% chance of a December rate hike to just 24% today.  Ignoring global reflation risks – this summer the Fed has dramatically talked DOWN rate hike expectations.

The Weak Dollar Ignites Global Inflation Pressures

Fresh Year Highs this week*

Palladium: 16 yr high
Zinc: 10 yr high
Lithium: 6 yr high
Aluminum: 6 yr high
Copper: 3 yr high
Coal: 3 yr high
Iron Ore: 0.4 yr high

*Side effects of weak dollar FOMC, China regulatory issues heading into 19th Congress, demand expectations for electric cars (Lithium, Copper).

Oil, the Upside Trend Break

The last holdout has been oil.  Several global secular pressures have been suppressing this beast, but she’s making some noise lately.

Dinner with Bill Dudley of the New York Federal Reserve

Thursday evening, we attended a  dinner with the NY Fed’s Bill Dudley,  He delivered a speech at the Downtown Association with a hawkish tone. Dudley kicked the “financial conditions targeting” door back open in our view. He said the FOMC with an eye on FCIs should be able to remove accommodation with low inflation.

“Even though inflation is currently somewhat below our longer-run objective, I judge that it is still appropriate to continue to remove monetary policy accommodation gradually,”

New York Fed’s Bill Dudley

“I expect that the U.S. economy will continue to perform quite well, with slightly above-trend growth leading to further gradual tightening of the U.S. labor market,”

New York Fed’s Bill Dudley

A Q&A focused on Harvey and Irma

In the Q&A, the sleepy event became far more interesting. Governor Dudley opened the door to inflation shock concerns with an eye on the two historic hurricanes with a meaningful impact on the U.S. economy this season.


(Insured losses understate the fiscal policy rebuilding/infrastructure funding needed from Washington – $220B for Harvey and Irma in our view).

The colossal rebuilding projects concentrated on greater Miami, Tampa, greater Houston, and Beaumont will require hundreds of thousands of new workers.

Keep in mind, Texas and Florida represent 12% of US GDP.  Dudley mentioned labor market in construction is “tight” in those states.   According to the National Association of Home Builders – over 75% of its members report acute shortages in the latest survey.

Bond Yields and Cat 4+ Hurricanes

Our latest Bear Traps Report takes a look at bond yields and category 4+ hurricanes in the U.S. – the data is impressive.  Each time, bonds rally into the tragedy – (GDP growth worries) on near term economic risk concerns.   What comes next is a mind blower. 

It’s clear, any substantial fiscal policy changes coming out of Washington will have a meaningful impact (wages, average hourly earnings, cost push inflation). The colossal rebuild (as high as $220B in our view) comes with wage inflation risk in Q4 and beyond.

The Road Ahead

Today, many U.S. economists are asleep at the switch again.  They’re far too focused on “Goldilocks” calm U.S. inflation data, NOT global Inflation Pressures, Irma and Harvey.   Hello, BIG MISTAKE. In a dramatic reversal, the global inflation picture could very well force the Fed into surprise rate hikes, NOT cuts this time around.

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U.S. Manufacturing’s Best Result since 2011

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Friday’s ISM data showed U.S. factories surged in August to the fastest pace of expansion in six years, largely powered by an employment uptick.

  • Factory index climbed to 58.8 (est. 56.5) from 56.3 in July.
  • Employment gauge jumped to 59.9, highest since June 2011, from 55.2.
  • Economists polled expected a reading of 56.8%. Any reading above 50% indicates improving conditions.

Friday’s jobs report in the U.S. displayed the strongest month for manufacturing hiring since August 2013.  Manufacturing and construction accounted for an additional 64k new jobs.

U.S. 10 Year Treasury Bond was 3.73% the last time ISM Data was this Strong

Inside the data, the measure of new orders fell to 60.3 from 60.4; order backlog gauge rose to 57.5, matching a three-year high.   The August PMI is at its highest level since August 2011, when it touched 59.1. And the August PMI is 3.4% above the 12-month average of 55.4 and 2.1% above the 2017 average of 56.7.  ISM noted, 14 of the 18 manufacturing sectors contributing to the report expanded in August.  It’s clear, bond yields are being suppressed by U.S. political and global geopolitical risks – not economic growth data.

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