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.

Stupid “Rich” Skew in Apple, Greed Breaks Things

*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

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Sept 6: What Just Happened over the last Nasdaq 14 days?

1. A Colossal buyer (SoftBank) distorted the price of upside calls on eight stocks.

2. Quants and Robinhood piled on, further distorting markets.

3. Dealers who have been destroyed in recent years (selling vol) holding a small deck, they had to get long more and more stock to hedge upside market risk.

4. As stocks surged, dealers who sold upside calls – must hedge even more as – out of the money options they sold – pick up more delta. Banks buy more stock. Call-put skew reaches record territory on several big-name tech stocks, meaning the cost differential to buy upside vs. protect the downside, reaches all-time wide levels.

5. Nasdaq is nearly 60% 12 stocks, this “three-card monte” game above has a large impact on passive index funds.

6. The original, colossal upside call buyer exits some of their position.

7. Dealers / banks MUST sell stock in size, take off their hedges, sell Mortimer, SELL.

8. Selling brings out more selling, banks take off more hedges as the options lose delta, MORE selling.

9. The little guy / gal gets left holding the bag.

Alert: High and High Closes September 2, 2020
Wednesday, an All-time highest VIX reading on a day with the S&P 500 touching the highest level ever. Of the top 20 occurrences, there were 17 in the 1999-2000 period, and three over the last 7 days. When option traders receive colossal size orders to buy upside calls they have two choices. a) Have your sales force get on the phone to the largest holders of the stock (say Apple and Buffett) and convince them to sell upside calls. b) If they cannot find enough sellers of upside calls, they must buy stock in size to hedge the calls they are selling to the client.
This is taking the street short gamma – likely the largest way all time. As we learned with Lehman, greed breaks things. It’s “high-noon” – the only character missing is Gary Cooper. We are witnessing a battle of wills, high speculation where colossal call buyers are forcing the street to get long more and more stock to hedge their upside risk. It’s the March capitulation selling in reverse. Just the way the street had to BUY downside protection in late March (because put buyers outnumbered call buyers 10-1). Today, they are being forced to BUY upside protection in SIZE (call buyers outnumbered put buyers 10-1). It’s going to break!

Insanity in Options

This post is Part II of New Vol Regime

“As my first boss told me at Merrill Lynch in 1990, ´In options Larry, they show it to you (lush $$ green premium), and then they take it away.´”

LGM

The convexity skew picture on big-name equities like Apple $AAPL has gone parabolically stupid. Let’s keep this simple and draw a conclusion.

“Over the past few weeks, there has been a massive buyer in the market of Technology upside calls and call spreads across a basket of names including ADBE, AMZN, FB, CRM, MSFT, GOOGL, and NFLX. Our friends at Citadel calculate, over $1 BILLION of premium spent and upwards of $20B in notional through strike – this is arguably some of the largest single stock-flow we’ve seen in years, they noted. We agree someone is playing with House Money, and they’re rolling large.”

Bear Traps Report, August 24, 2020

Apple $AAPL Stock near $130

Jan $180 Strike Calls costs $4
Jan $80 Strike Puts costs $1

*Both options are $50 out of the money, approx data, BUT it is nearly 3x more expensive to buy upside risk in AAPL equity. Downside protection normally costs more than upside risk participation, NOT today. What does this mean?

“The public is trapped long and institutions are trapped long and the snowball that was pushed very quickly up the hill and got big is now at risk of becoming an avalanche.”

Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at BTIG, Bloomberg

Nasdaq Whale Makes a Splash

One large buyer has made a colossal splash in the market and the scent of greed has drawn thousands of other market participants into the dangerous game. Several clients in our institutional chat on Bloomberg have cited SoftBank as the original size buyer. We have NO IDEA if this is true, just that highly credible clients have made this reference several times over the last week. It’s a high-stakes game of musical chairs, the ultimate greater fool theory moment. The colossal call buyer has thrown meat in the water and drawn in the sharks, but unfortunately thousands of Robinhood minnows at the same time. When the large players’ exit, the little guy and gal will be left holding the bag.

Apple closed near $130, while the cost of speculative upside calls is weighted heavily against the buyer. Someone must have reached out to Buffett today because he can make a fortune in selling $AAPL upside calls. Let us explain.

Very Expensive Upside
Call it extremely unusual activity. We have a higher stock price in Apple AAPL with a much higher cost of equity upside. Equity vol usually explodes higher in market crashes, NOT bull markets. As you can see above, in normal Apple equity bull markets – see all of 2019 – AAPL implied vol has been CHEAP, NOT RICH (expensive) like today! In March and April, near the market bottom – the price for puts was more than 4x the price for calls, today we have done a 180, extreme fear to extreme greed. 

In our institutional client chat on Bloomberg, a hedge fund put on this trade and we are sharing it with permission. 

With Apple stock near $130, think of the January 2021 expiration. The client bought the $200 call and sold the $250 call, 1 x 4, and got paid $3.50 to put the trade on. What does this mean? See below.

Extreme Premium to Extreme Discount
Apple $AAPL is near $140 pre-market on September 2nd. In July, the Street’s 12-month price target was $85, now $116. In March, the price target commanded an $18 PREMIUM to the Apple stock price, NOW it’s close to a $24 discount. In classic 1990s fashion, the mad mob of Wall St. analysts cannot raise their stock price targets fast enough to keep up with the equity price appreciation. That is from 44 analysts, Bloomberg data.

The Trade

Apple was worth $1.5T at the end of July and today she stands tall at $2.2T. In order for the client to lose money* at January expiration, the stock has to breach $270 ($130-$136 this week), which would put the company’s market capitalization very close to $5T, by January 2021, that is a little over four months away.

*The mark to market in the short run can be extremely painful though – if Apple equity soars another 10-20% (Apple is up 50% since late July), that is indeed the catch. AAPL is trading nearly 65% above its 200-day moving average vs. 42% in February’s great bull run. 

Cost of Upside is Insanely Expensive
There are a handful of quant funds pushing around a few stocks (with high impact on QQQ, NDX, SPY) in the options markets. The dealers are getting very nervous.  Last 15 days – Imaging being a large market maker in Apple and Tesla equity options. You make a market, bid – offer, you get lifted and lifted over and over again by buyers to the point where you have raised the price of calls vs puts to multi-year extremes. How short is the Street gamma? VERY.

The Ultimate Lesson From Stan

“So, I’ll never forget it. January of 2000 I go into Soros’s office and I say I’m selling all the tech stocks, selling everything. This is crazy at 104 times earnings. This is nuts. Just kind of as I explained earlier, we’re going to step aside, wait for the net fat pitch. I didn’t fire the two gunslingers. They didn’t have enough money to really hurt the fund, but they started making 3 percent a day and I’m out. It is driving me nuts. I mean their little account is like up 50 percent on the year. I think Quantum was up seven. It’s just sitting there… So like around March I could feel it coming. I just – I had to play. I couldn’t help myself. And three times during the same week I pick up a – don’t do it. Don’t do it. Anyway, I pick up the phone finally. I think I missed the top by an hour. I bought $6 billion worth of tech stocks. and in six weeks I had left Soros and I had lost $3 billion in that one play. You asked me what I learned. I didn’t learn anything. I already knew that I wasn’t supposed to that. I was just an emotional basket case and couldn’t help myself. So, maybe I learned not to do it again. but I already knew that ”

Stan Druckenmiller

When call vs. put skew gets this extreme it can be a solid leading risk indicator.  Join our live chat here, tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com.

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New Vol Regime

*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com to get on our live Bloomberg chat over the terminal, institutional investors only please, it’s a real value add.

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September 2, 2020: All-time highest VIX on a day with the S&P 500 touching the highest level ever.

Equity Market Volatility Divergence

Strange times indeed. This week we observed two spectacular divergences. First, single-name equity option activity relative to indices was near all-time, historic extremes. Second, Nasdaq volatility (VXN) traded at a multi-year premium to the CBOE VIX. What is going on here? This post is from August 28, the latest update is here. 

Nasdaq Volatility Trading Very Rich to the S&P 500
With the Nasdaq QQQs up close to 40% this year, there are lots of gains to protect.  Nasdaq vol has been trading very expensive relative to the VIX. Investors are paying up for protection.

Climax Points

Think of bull and bear market capitulation climax points. At the end of a bear’s mauling, dozens if not hundreds of rallies have failed. Long, exhaustive bear markets break the hope and spirit of more and more investors – until the point of maximum capitulation. There is NO one left to sell, think March 2009. Each failed rally delivers deeper losses to the market participants and every one of the “fast money” tourists have run for the hills. All that’s left is an empty meadow, the genesis of a new bull market is born.

Now, let us think of the beast inside a great bull. Dozens if not hundreds of dips have been bought. With each victory, fast money rookies share their battle stories with more and more friends at cocktail parties. Tourists arrive, busload after busload empty into the market, it’s all good, “this is easy.” With each triumphant buy of the dip, investor confidence turns into a dark shade of hubris and more and more capital pours in. Why not, the mad mob is playing with the house’s money. Now think of 100 hedge funds, all up 3% for the month. Why not take 1% of those gains and buy calls on the largest, highest momentum equities. Worst case you end up 2% for the month, best case you deliver 5%, after all, you take home at least 20% of the profits. One conclusion, month-end (Aug 31) / quarter-end (Sept 30) is about to get very interesting.

August 2020

The first 20-ish days of the month were the quietest in a long time. If we look at ten-day, realized equity market volatility, it plunged to nearly 6 vol, 2020’s nadir. On the other hand, this week as month-end drew closer – we experienced two, 1% trading range days with close to forty handle swings in the S&P 500. For sure, someone is monetizing gains.

VIX Up – S&P Up
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the  Chicago Board Options Exchange’s CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) was more than 5% higher each day, with the S&P 500 up both of those days. How rare is this? Very. We could only find ten days in the last decade with the S&P up 1% with the VIX closing higher. This is especially rare with the market at all-time highs. In a healthy bull market at its best levels, the VIX should be in the low teens, NOT the lows 20s. 

Two Month vs. 8 Month VIX Futures Contracts
One of our 21 Lehman Systemic Risk Indicators are found in the trading spread between the two and 8-month VIX futures options contracts. To keep this as simple as possible, all we are doing here is measuring the cost of protection. How much more expensive is buying short term vs. long term insurance? The above data is mindblowing. This week, the cost to buy the two-month VIX future reached nearly 5 handles more than the eight-month contract. Elephants leave footprints. When large hedge funds need or want to pay-up for short term protection from a market crash that is one thing, BUT the price they are paying this week is VERY extreme with a market at all-time highs. As you can see above, the 2-8 spread is wider today than nearly every financial panic in the last five years. In a healthy, “risk-on” (where risk is being put on) bull market – this spread should be in “contango” – the two-month VIX futures contract should be ALOT cheaper than the 8-month variety. 

 Paying Up for Upside Risk

Over the past few weeks, there has been a massive buyer in the market of Technology upside calls and call spreads across a basket of names including ADBE, AMZN, FB, CRM, MSFT, GOOGL, and NFLX. Our friends at Citadel calculate, over $1 BILLION of premium spent and upwards of $20B in notional through strike – this is arguably some of the largest single stock-flow we’ve seen in years, they noted. We agree someone is playing with House Money, and they’re rolling large.

“The average daily options contracts traded in NDX stocks to rise from ~4mm/day average in April to ~5.5mm/day average in August (a 38% jump in volume).  Given this group of 7 stocks accounts for a ~40% weighting in the NDX, the outsized volatility buying in the single names is having an impact at the Index level.  So why are Vols moving yesterday/today when this call buying has been taking place for weeks?  Yesterday CRM, one of the names we have seen outsized flow, rallied 26% on earnings – a less than ideal outcome for those short volatility from all the call buying.  As the street got trapped being short vol, other names in the basket saw 3-4 standard deviation moves higher as well – yesterday FB rallied 8% (a 3 standard deviation move), NFLX rallied 11% (a 4 standard deviation move), and ADBE rallied 9% (a 3 standard deviation move).  The most natural place to hedge being short single name Tech volatility is through buying NDX volatility.  As such, there has been a flood of NDX volatility buyers with NDX vols up about 4 vol points in 2 trading days. And if NDX volatility is going up, SPX volatility/VIX will eventually go up too.” Citadel

What are the conclusions? What does this tell us about the path forward? What other instances of this occurrence have we seen historically? Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com for our full report. 

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High Impact in the Gulf

*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com to get on our live Bloomberg chat over the terminal, institutional investors only please, it’s a real value add.

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*MARCO ‘ S CENTER MOVING THROUGH THE YUCATAN CHANNEL :NHC
*LAURA STRENGTHENS NEAR PUERTO RICO :NHC

Gulf Disruption, Where is the Trade?

“Over the last decade, at certain inflection points each year we listen to our best relationships in the advanced weather forecasting space and believe a hyperactive hurricane season is on the
way. A possible 18-22 “named” storms/hurricanes compared to the 30-year average of a 13 storm season. The primary reason? Significantly warmer-than-normal Atlantic surface temperatures are with us. This balmy water is pure lighter fluid, propelling storms all the way from the African Sahel toward the Caribbean and beyond. Hurricanes often cause immense property damage; loss of human life and we hope none of these events transpire. However, for market participants, we offer three scenarios and strategies to hedge against encroaching hurricane risk. Should a hurricane enter the Gulf of Mexico, we believe a strategy of long refiners and short (re)insurers presents the best hedge. However, if the beast aims for the Eastern Seaboard, a combination of long natural gas and short (re)insurers provides the best plan of action.”

Bear Traps Report, August 19, 2020, institutional investors, FAs, RIAs, CIOs, and investment professionals, email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com for a copy of the investment thesis and the FULL report.

Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane
“The models are showing something unprecedented this morning, two storms make landfall within 24 to 36 hours in essentially the same spot.”

Aaron Carmichael, a meteorologist with the commercial forecaster Maxar.

The Fujiwhara Effect

If both cyclones perform an elegant dance and slip around each other. They would orbit a common center, with Laura likely propelled west-northwest while Marco’s northward progress could be slowed. – WP


 

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The $400B Front Run with the Index Funds Holding the Bag – Part III

*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com to get on our live Bloomberg chat over the terminal, institutional investors only please, it’s a real value add.

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Inclusion Games Chapter III

On Friday, Telsa shares climbed very close to $2100 and a $400B market cap – right on the doorstep of passing Johnson & Johnson JNJ. This would put TSLA just behind Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway at the #8 spot based on equity market capitalization. We’re looking at one colossal whale for the S&P inclusion team to swallow. An unprecedented amount of selling will be required to make room for this monstrosity.

Looking back at major index inclusions in the last decade, especially with a keen eye on the last 12 months of S&P announcements on constituent changes, we think it’s most likely that the S&P will include Tesla TSLA in the upcoming rebalance in the third week of September. If not, the December rebalance would be the next opportunity for S&P to include TSLA.  Most of the smaller S&P inclusions/exclusions coincide with a corporate event. This could be the completion of a takeover or bankruptcy that frees up space for another constituent. However, the larger constituent inclusions are done with a quarterly rebalance. For example, the Teledyne TDY inclusion in June was done with the June rebalance and the Live Nation LYV inclusion in December with the quarter-end rebalance which occurred that month. Note that one of the biggest additions of the last 10 years was Facebook FB, which was announced on December 11, 2013, for the inclusion on December 20, 2013, coinciding with the quarterly rebalance.

Is this a Scam or a Con game? It Smells to High Heaven
We believe it is likely that the Inclusion Committee at S&P waits until mid-September to announce the inclusion of Tesla in the S&P 500. This would coincide with the quarterly rebalance (Sep 21).

Free Float and Influence

Buying pressure from S&P inclusion: There is approximately $3.9T of pure index capital following the S&P 500. These are mostly index funds, including ETFs and mutual funds that mimic the S&P. TSLA market cap is $400B but Musk owns 18.4% of the stock. The free-float market cap is therefore $326B. Musk’s net worth is getting up there, near $90B, nearly $11B more than Warren Buffett, not bad for the car and battery maker. Keep in mind, at his death in 1947, Henry Ford was worth close to $200B in today’s dollars.

We have over 450 buy-side institutional investors on our live Bloomberg Chat, with more than 50 contributors across nearly all asset classes. If you know a portfolio manager that we should add to our live chat, please let us know tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com .

Why the Big Move this Week?

The recent runup in TSLA stock was more likely to be related to the 5-for-1 stock split. The split takes effect on August 31 for each shareholder of record on Aug. 21. Market participants were likely clamoring into the stock to be shareholders of record for the split.

The S&P index inclusion has been another source of fuel behind the recent squeeze higher in the TSLA stock. According to our estimates, S&P is likely to assign a 1% weight for TSLA in the S&P. That means passive investors, who track the S&P 500, would need to buy $33.8B of TSLA stock. But every $100 increase in TSLA stock, would force another $1.6B of index tracking capital into the stock. This provides all the elements of a potential squeeze, whereby astute speculators front-run the index inclusion announcement, after which passive capital must buy the stock in a relatively short period of time before the rebalance.

Selling Stock In the Hole

For decades, the convertible bond market has been known on Wall St. as the “last saloon.” You know, the one bar opened until 3 or 4am, where patrons desperate for a late-night cocktail can find refuge. Our research shows, frequent visitors to this arena – where borrowing terms are certainly NOT as friendly as others – have gone on to file bankruptcy a very high percentage of the time.

Less than 18 months ago, Tesla sold TSLA stock on the cheap (near $200 in May 2019 vs. $2100 this month), in a desperation convertible bond offering. Which begs the question,  if you sold shares in size at $200, why wouldn´t you do the same at $2100? We think Elon will, he is NO dummy.

Serial Convertible Bond Issuers

SunEdison*
Chesapeake Energy*
Molycorp*
Lehman*
iStar Financial*
Calpine*
Fannie Freddie**
Enron*
Tyco*
Adelphia*
Six Flags*
eToys*
Avaya*
Worldcom*
Tesla

*Went bankrupt. File under ominous. Tesla is one of the very few, VERY few companies that have come “hat in hand” – in desperate need of capital, multiple times to the convertible bond market, and NOT file bankruptcy. 
**conservatorship

“Tesla should fill all orders with an offering that is announced on the inclusion day. It’s been done before. $15BN equity offering MOC pricing should do it. Every bank; $GS, $C, $JPM, and the buyers themselves are way way ahead of you. They are already talking.”

Andy Constan

Buffett’s Ideas to Avoid Disruption

In prescient from, back in 1999, Warren Buffett observed that the growth of indexation would eventually run into sustainability problems in need of solutions.  Buffett made the point if a very large company were to be added to the S&P 500 it could be extremely disruptive. “If you shorted the companies after inclusion into the index you would be surprised at the (good) returns.” After the market distortions, unnatural demand for shares created by the addition to the index is very disruptive. Buffett came up with two solutions. Option #1, Tesla could offer a large number of shares for sale in a secondary offering which would offset the $34B of index demand. Look out below, $TSLA stock would lose 40-50% in our view in this scenario. Option #2, S&P scales the entry in, say 10bps a month or quarter. To us, this is the MOST likely solution. The index funds don’t swallow Tesla in one bite but a dozen nibbles over 12-24 months.

For perspective, Buffett entered the S&P 500 in 2010. Back then Berkshire and was the 21st largest stock in the Index vs. #9 for $TSLA. More of a shocker, BRK/B was valued at just $170B vs. $390B valuation for Tesla on Friday. In terms of inclusion demand for shares: $14B vs. $35B*. The run-up into inclusion was 26% for Buffett v. 822% for Musk.

*Amount passive indexes MUST buy, WSJ Reuters data.

Lessons from Yahoo
Yahoo was added to the S&P 5000 on December 7, 1999. Its market cap was nearly $92B – then it spent the next 15 years between $5B and $50B valuation. 

We have over 450 buy-side institutional investors on our live Bloomberg Chat, with more than 50 contributors across nearly all asset classes. If you know a portfolio manager that we should add to our live chat, please let us know tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com .

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Fed Balance Sheet Games, Fed´s MTA Bailout takes shape

*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com to get on our live Bloomberg chat over the terminal, institutional investors only please, it’s a real value add.

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August 19: New York’s MTA Becomes Second to Tap Fed as Banks Demand Higher Yields

Now that the trains are half full, the Federal Reserve took down nearly $500m of the troubled rail´s bonds. Interest costs were 1.92%, nearly 1% LESS than their cost in the private market. This is one COLOSSAL bailout in the works, billions $$$ more bond buys to come in the near future. 

How does the Fed decide 1.92%? When the cost of capital is decided by unelected committees (and NOT the free market), who picks the winners and losers?

In our institutional client chat, live on Bloomberg we received this question today:

Q: “Why has the Feds balance sheet shrunk over the last 6 weeks if they supposed to be doing over $100B a week of QE? I don’t get why there´s almost no one is talking about this?”

Keep an Eye on the S&P 500 and the Fed Balance Sheet
A: We keep hearing this is in relation to liquidity vs. securities held. So “securities held” are up LARGE (mortgage-backed securities, treasuries, corporate bonds, municipal bonds), but liquidity measures, swap – repo facilities are down a lot. So, the total balance sheet has come down from $7.169T on June 10, to $6.957T today. Above all, roll off of repos and $ swaps from CBs has been a drain on asset side fed balance sheet. These two things have largely happened in tandem as Fed has restored markets to a plethora of liquidity. Fed 84 day swap lines got up to $400b, that number is coming down a lot, and the same is the case for repo. The market can now handle both. As these things come out, Fed balance sheet will start moving higher again as the +$80b a month of UST purchases becomes a marginal driver. For now, PDCF, $ swap lines, repo etc. all the emergency measures that aren’t getting rolled in full and coming off b/s are taking the wind out of the growth of Fed asset side. The bottom line, real liquidity is being pulled from the system. Keep in mind, as the Fed expanded their balance sheet from September to February, we were lectured by Wall St., “don´t fight the Fed.” And then stocks dropped nearly 40%. 

Don’t miss our next trade idea. Get on the Bear Traps Report Today, click here
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Dollar Plunge, Copper Supply Crisis, Shipping Costs Soar, file under NOT Deflationary

*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com to get on our live Bloomberg chat over the terminal, institutional investors only please, it’s a real value add.

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Dollar, Now through the Lows

August 18, 2020

Dollar Weakness on Road to a Crisis

The US dollar has declined vs most major currencies, while gold, silver and other commodities have rallied. While last week’s 0.6% rise in core CPI could be an adjustment from the shutdown, the rise in commodities and decline in the dollar is something that could become more meaningful over time, although this process could take months or years.  One major difference with previous periods is the impact of China. Beginning with its 50% currency devaluation in 1994, China has been one of the major forces dampening US inflation – i.e. Greenspan’s conundrum. If production begins moving back to the US, inflation may begin assuming more historically normal patterns. We may even see the rebirth of the Phillips curve. With Arthur Bass, Wedbush.

Never Listen to the Mad Mob

The unintended consequences coming out of the multi-trillion dollar, fiscal – monetary policy cocktail are ripping around the planet. Coupled with pandemic side effects – shipping costs are telling us bond yields should be much higher. Copper prices are singing the same tune.

The mad mob ONLY wanted to talk copper demand in April and May, now everyone is waking up to the supply reality. London Metal Exchange’s global warehouse network is holding the least copper since 2008. See our bullish metals report here. 

Copper Supply Crisis-hits a New Level
The London Metal Exchange’s global warehouse network is holding the least copper since 2008 in the latest sign of an economic recovery. The decline in inventories over the past few months coincides with record-breaking shipments of copper into China, where demand for the metal in the manufacturing sector has surged since lockdown restrictions were eased. Inventories tracked by the LME now stand at 110,000 tons, down 61% from this year’s peak, per Bloomberg.

The Largest Shipper on the Planet – Maersk
The last time MAERSK equity was near 9000, German bund yields were 20 to 60bps higher. As one of the world´s top exporters, German bond yields have maintained a strong correlation to shipping costs, until now.

The Cobra Effect, comes with Surging Unintended Consequences 
Capacity constraints have driven up rates for international shipments this year whether by sea, air or land, further complicating matters for supply-chain managers dealing with the effects of Covid-19 on their businesses. The cost of moving goods by ship has climbed 12% in 2020 to the highest since February 2015, according to the Drewry World Container Index. Ocean-liner rates have benefited from the industry being more disciplined with idle capacity, coupled with support from general rate increases and peak-season surcharges, per Bloomberg Intelligence. Must see our Cobra Effect post, over 1 million views. 

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Consumer Prices, will the Real CPI Please Stand Up

“As the Fed expanded its balance sheet to unprecedented levels from December 2008 to December 2011, precious metals and precious metal miners widely outperformed equity markets. Historically, in the most extreme precious metal bull markets, silver widely outperforms gold. Today, silver trades at multi-decade cheap levels relative to gold. We remain bullish on both, but as we alerted clients last week, silver remains our highest conviction buy over the next 12 – 18 months. We’re long a full 3/3 position in the portfolio.”

Bear Traps Report, April 3, 2020


*Our institutional client flatform includes; financial advisors, family offices, RIAs, CTAs, hedge funds, mutual funds, and pension funds.

Email tatiana@thebeartrapsreport.com to get on our live Bloomberg chat over the terminal, institutional investors only please, it’s a real value add.

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Cross Asset Signals are Surging

After almost a decade in hibernation, gold bugs are roaming the earth again. A fast drop in the dollar’s real yield and the uptick of a favored gauge of inflation expectations have sent the metal on a wild ride.

CPI vs. CPI Food
When CPI food makes a 2-3 standard deviation move, it´is hard to ignore.  For weeks there was meaningful divergence. Commodities were screaming higher while bond yields were looking the other way, no cares. That all changed this week. 

Q2 Agriculture Equities

Mosaic MOS +49%
Bunge BG +22%
Nutrien NTR +15%

Food Stagflation

This week Bloomberg Opinion noted, skeptics might say there isn’t enough evidence of rising prices to warrant a neck-breaking run in gold, traditionally seen as a hedge against inflation. (Maybe all that lockdown isolation had bond traders imagining things.) In July, U.S. consumer prices rose 1% from a year earlier, well below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. Meanwhile, at 2.7%, the headline figure in China remained in check, even as pork and fresh vegetable prices soared. But here’s a thought: What if our governments aren’t measuring consumer prices correctly? Is it possible that inflation is actually a lot higher?

Covid-19 has overhauled our spending patterns entirely, not least because of social distancing rules. We’re laying out less on transportation, restaurants and hotels, and splurging on food, because — like it or not — we’re all home chefs now. This sudden change can introduce significant biases in the consumer price index, according to a new study from Harvard Business School. Statistics bureaus in most countries update their CPI expenditure baskets only once a year, often using lagged data. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, revised its weightings last December using information collected a year earlier. As a result, the indexes don’t reflect Covid-19.

Soft Commodities and Bond Prices
What is interesting is – in Q2 2020, hard commodities led this move higher, and “softs” (agriculture plays) really started to play catch up in recent weeks – THAT woke up the bond market this week. 

Pass-Through Inflation Risk

In the official gauge, for instance, groceries receive a weight of less than 8%, whereas transportation gets about 15%. But recent data collected from consumers’ credit and debit card transactions show that a more appropriate weighting would be around 11% and 6%, the study’s author, Alberto Cavallo, found.

As gnarled distribution makes food more expensive, and groceries take up a bigger share of our daily budgets, the inflation we’re feeling is quite a bit higher than the numbers suggest. Meanwhile, cheaper transportation hardly matters, because we’re all staying home.

China Floods are a Problem – Listen to SOIL
There are reports of up to 30% of China´s agricultural output could be at risk. China facing food shortage after months of flooding, infestations.  Xi’s description of food waste as ‘shocking and distressing’ could portend looming food shortage. Per Asian news outlets, this is the second time that Xi has given instructions on China’s grains within a month, raising eyebrows among China watchers as a sign of a possible food crisis. 

State Secrets

The bias in China is harder to measure because the CPI weighting is a state secret. What we do know is that the National Bureau of Statistics tweaks it every year. Bloomberg Intelligence gives us their best estimates: Food may be getting a 20% weight, while transportation and communication has about 14.5%.  Nonetheless, China’s downward bias is likely even more pronounced. Say food returns to its 30% weight from five years ago, a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that consumer inflation would have hit 4% in July, well above the central bank’s 3% comfort zone. Food prices jumped by 13.2% last month, versus a 4.6% rise in the U.S., because a severe flood disrupted the supply chain.

This perhaps explains why, even though the dollar has become a less attractive investment vehicle thanks to the U.S. government’s chaotic virus-containment policies, investors aren’t crowding into high-yield emerging-market currencies but opting for gold instead. Nominal rates are falling everywhere, while inflation is ticking up, and who knows what the real interest rates in various nations are. Gold, as we’ve argued, serves as a useful hedge in these extraordinary times. Working with Bloomberg Opinion and Shuli Ren.


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