Beware of the Banker

“Beware of the banker who says he’s not in need of your capital, for those very spoken words are a loud cry for help.”

Bernard Baruch

Join our Larry McDonald on CNBC’s Fast Money, Wednesday May 18, at 5pm.

Our 21 Lehman Systemic Risk Indicators are Screaming Sell

In the face of bold threats of destruction from the PBOC (People’s Bank Of China), some brave souls are paying up for CNH vol (Currency Volatility) today (see the chart below), betting on further yuan depreciation.

The Fed did China a huge favor in shooting the March and June rate hikes between the eyes, thus talking the dollar lower (98.5 to 91.9 from March 2 to May 2).  But the dollar’s surge since has the PBOC flustered. Their punch back to the Fed for not further containing the greenback will be found in some stressful financial conditions. CNY CNH Spread Leading

Over the last year, surges in CNH vol have been followed by a plunging S&P 500. 



VIX Futures 2 vs 8 Month Spread
One important component of our 21 systemic risk indicators is found in the VIX 2 month vs 8 month spread. Deep backwardation (front month trading rich to the outer months) comes with strong equity buy signals, as we noted in our Bear Traps report on February 9th. Rich contango (front month trading cheap to the outer months) comes as a sell signal. The recent high in the S&P coincided with the steepest VIX futures curve in the last year. Think of a car moving from 30 to 90mph, the speed of the curves flattening process, the stronger the equity sell signal.

As most know, China lost $800B last year in capital outflows.  As the dollar weakened in March, capital outflows in China took a well needed breather.  The Chinese yuan is pegged to the US dollar, thus a strong US currency makes China’s goods sold around the world much more expensive.  After the dollar’s pull back (March – April), China posted their two best export months in the last year.

If you’re a billionaire in China and you know your currency is dramatically over-valued, you’re going to do everything you can to get cash out of the country and into dollars.  This explains the record amount of US acquisitions by companies in China, it’s the great cash run out of the country.

In January, the Fed wanted to hike rates four times this year, they misjudged the negative impact a strong dollar has on the global economy.  Hence, after they woke up and brought their rate hike forecast to 2, global markets stabilized.

Here we sit, halfway through the month of May and the Federal Reserve has promised to hike rates two more times in the next 6 months.

Much Smaller Part of the Global Economy

Global GDP Outside the USA: $61T


There are only two ways out for China, a substantial currency or credit devaluation.  We think they’ll choose the former.  With NPLs (non-performing loans) at 17% of outstanding credit vs what the PBOC tells us (less than 2%), it’s a mess.  Bad loans are  8x to 10x than the bogus official numbers lead us to believe.  Ultimately, we believe there are likely $700B to $1T of losses.

Transports are Flashing Sell Signals

Dow Jones vs Transports
Classic market top price action is found in the divergence between the Dow Jones Industrial Average (heading north) and the Dow Jones Transports (heading south).

In the post Lehman era, central banks either huddled together or off on their own, have carried a heavy policy cross with the goal of giving their underlying governments time to heal from the financial crisis.
It’s a game of central bankers using monetary policy in an effort to take time off the clock. Their ultimate hope? A prayer that the burned out engines of fiscal policy would finally ignite to save the day. That day has never come, so far central banks have only become the great enabler.

Today, global leverage is found in chains wrapped around the feet of former powerhouse economies. Total debt (corporate, household, government), laying in advanced economies is now 259% of GDP vs 175% in emerging markets, and 246% in the US and China.

The year 2016 will mark a turning point. The serpent inside global markets has been contained by central bankers, but this beast is about to have his revenge. We witnessed opening acts last September and again in January, but the show has just begun.

Over the last 10 years central banks have thrown a lot of firepower, trying to contain Mr. Market’s natural laws. The experimental drugs are wearing off, the patient now needs stronger and more intense doses to achieve the same desired effect.

This fight is so long in the tooth, we must prepare for what’s next. When common sense becomes harder and harder to find, you’re far closer to the end than the beginning. The last act will not end in laughs, there won’t be a dry seat left in the house.




“Appreciably Lower”


The key to Yellen’s deceptive banter yesterday was found in just two words, “appreciably lower.” This overly dovish tone leads us down a few different paths for equities.

1. US equities drift higher with more central bank accommodation

2. The market realizes the US economy (and earnings) aren’t as strong as investors are hoping, and stocks pull back.

We think it’s the latter.

One year chart of the SPY Index – In our opinion, the upside is limited to a few percent vs the downside of 20% over the next few months.

Over the last two years, as the VIX curve has gone into deep contango (as represented by the front month and the 8th month – White line well below the Green line), this has been a sell signal for US equities.

Continue reading “Appreciably Lower”



Happy Days Aren’t Here to Stay

European financials started to rollover last fall, before US banks followed suit. We are seeing the same pattern today (chart below).  Strong sell signals in the Eurozone financials have us on alert, our Lehman systemic risk indicators are on the rise.

1 Year Chart of US Financials vs European Financials


Continue reading Happy Days Aren’t Here to Stay



What’s Japan telling us about US Equities?

Last July and again in December, as credit risk was surging globally, we strongly recommended our subscribers take down risk to equities.

“US equity markets continue their slow climb higher, pushing the S&P 500 back near the highs, while the junk bond market is selling off”.Bear Traps July 24, 2015


The chart above is a look at European and Asian 5 year CDS’ credit risk on banks this morning. Notice the correlation among these credits are still high.

It’s still too early to tell the side effects of Negative Rates in Japan but there is no doubt, many participants are losing faith in central banks, putting a bid under gold as the “fear trade” and leading to more misallocations of capital.

As long as commodities stay at depressed levels, volatility and Credit Default Swaps on Banks will remain expensive.

In simple terms, a Credit Default Swap (CDS) is a hedge against an asset falling in price. When an investor assumes a company or security (i.e. bonds) may default, investors will buy insurance protection in the form of a Credit Default Swap to protect against loss. When the price of a CDS rises it is a sign that a default has a higher probability.

Over the last few days, 5 year Credit Default Swaps on US banks have come in substantially (less expensive meaning less risky), leading to a rally in equities globally.

However, Asian credit, especially Japanese banks are still at elevated levels. Meaning the recent surge in stocks isn’t confirming what credit is suggesting. Therefore, all rallies will remain suspect and should be sold until the price of CDS on banks (insurance protection) falls.

Continue reading What’s Japan telling us about US Equities?



Stuck At Zero: Global Risks Have Tied The Fed’s Hands

Special thanks to our friend, macro maven Brian Yelvington for his contribution to this piece

On the seventh anniversary of the implosion of Lehman Brothers, an event that rocked the global economy, it’s more than ironic that the main topic of global financial discussion has been a rate hike by the Federal Reserve.  Behind the scenes, more interesting is the growing list of risks which may be tying the FOMC’s hands behind their back.

The Fed should have hiked rates in 2012, but every day they put off the rate raise, Lehman-like systemic risk is lurking and rising. It’s a Colossal Failure of Common Sense all over again.

With all the debate about what exactly the Federal Reserve should do with short-term interest rates, historical perspective is something that’s being left behind.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve’s Wilson Conference Center September 17, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Federal Reserve held its key interest rate locked at zero Thursday, pointing to the downturn in the global economy even as US growth remain steady.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve’s Wilson Conference Center September 17, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Federal Reserve held its key interest rate locked at zero Thursday, pointing to the downturn in the global economy even as US growth remain steady.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)


Continue reading Stuck At Zero: Global Risks Have Tied The Fed’s Hands




“A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”

 Alexis de Tocqueville 1835

As we head into 2014, you may be asking why we are concerned about a small island located in the Caribbean Sea, about a thousand miles southeast of Miami. Geographically, it is a mere speck on the map… practically irrelevant. In fact, 70 islands the size of Puerto Rico could fit comfortably into the state of Texas. However, the debt burden currently burying this economy may eventually send nasty tremors into the United States’ municipal bond market.

Surprisingly, of all the US muni bond funds, a staggering 75% of them are lending money to Puerto Rico, leaving millions of US investors and a large portion of US brokerage accounts exposed to this beleaguered little island. We suspect Puerto Rico will become America’s Greece. If swans could fly this far south, they would without question be the color of night.

2014 Tail Risk

Texas’s state government debt is relatively modest, near $40 billion, or $1,577 per resident.  Puerto Rico’s public debt of $53 billion is nearly $15,000 per person, but when we add inter-governmental debt the mountain rises to $70 billion, or $17,500 per person.  Throw in a violently under-funded pension and healthcare obligations, the noose approaches $160 billion. That’s $46,000 per person, enough to make one think about trying a swim for Miami.

Quantitative Easing: Deadly Side Effects

Puerto Rico, a mere rectangle 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, the smallest and most eastern island of the Greater Antilles, is the 3rd largest municipal bond issuer after California and New York. That is a mind-blowing statistic. But Puerto Rican bonds are free from all State, Federal and local taxes, a very attractive investment for US investors with a thirst for yield.  This is one side effect of low interest rates and quantitative easing coming out of the Federal Reserve; American investors have become this island’s great enabler from the north.  Similar to 2007, when investors were reaching for yield in toxic subprime mortgage CDOs, today this song is playing again.  This time in Spanish.  A colossal reach for yield has enabled politicians in Puerto Rico to run up a dangerous bill, and the music is about to stop.




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