Tag: Money (page 1 of 83)

Think Bitcoin Is A Bubble? Here’s Your Chance To Short It

Has the fact that the price of a single bitcoin has risen nearly eight-fold so far this year prompted you to turn bearish on the world's most valuable digital currency?

Well, here’s your chance to short it. 

A Swiss asset-management firm called Vontobel launched a new futures product on Friday that will make it easier for retail investors to short bitcoin.

Bitcoin of course recently bounced back to all-time highs after a more-than $1,000 drop last week. Traders who were short made a killing on their positions. But cashing in on the drop would’ve been far easier with new futures products designed to let customers bet against the bitcoin price.

The contracts, which will trade on the SIX Exchange, will enable investors to profit even if the currency – which has proven vulnerable to vicious selloffs – falls in value. According to Reuters, the company will release two mini futures, a type of derivatives instrument that represents a fraction of the value of standard futures, making it easier for retail traders to access the market.

According to Eric Blattmann, head of public distribution of financial products at Vontobel, the news comes at a time when traditional traders are simply looking for more options when it comes to trading cryptocurrencies.

Swiss investment solutions provider Leonteq Securities AG also announced the launch of a separate product. Leonteq’s product has a two-month maturity, while Vontobel’s is longer, but investors can of course exit their positions early since each product will trade on an exchange.

He said in statements:

"We have seen big demand for our long tracker certificate from investors interested in playing the upside potential of bitcoin and now they have also the possibility to hedge their position or go short."

Manuel Durr, head of public solutions at Leonteq, said clients appreciate being able to open long or short positions in bitcoin.

“The initial feedback has been extremely positive,” said Manuel Dürr, head of public solutions at Leonteq. “Clients do very much appreciate the possibility of choosing between a long or a short investment in bitcoin.”

The move comes after US derivatives exchange CME Group announced it would start trading bitcoin derivatives next month.

Already, New York-based startup LedgerX is offering live cryptocurrency futures trading, with $1 million traded in its first week.

While some exchanges have allowed customers to open short positions on margin, the Vontobel contract has become the easiest way for retail traders to short the digital currency. We wonder: Could this help inject more two-way volatility and slow, or perhaps even reverse, bitcoin's meteoric rise?

But if you’re looking to short the world’s most valuable digital currency, The Vontobel mini-futures are probably your best bet.

http://WarMachines.com

Mnuchin On Bond-Villain Comparison: “I Guess I Should Take That As A Compliment”

Treasury Secretary and noted Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin provoked criticisms from his political opponents after photos surfaced last week of Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton posing with a sheet of newly printed dollar bills bearing Mnuchin’s signature.

Asked by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace what it was like being compared with a bond villain after the photos went viral, Mnuchin said he took it as a compliment.

“I heard that. I never thought I’d be quoted as looking like a villain from the James Bond [movies]. I guess I should take that as a compliment that I look like a villain in a great, successful James Bond movie,” Mnuchin said.

 

“I was very excited about having my signature on the money and it’s something I’m very proud of being the secretary and helping the American people.”

Mnuchin said he thought nothing of it at the time the photo was taken, saying he didn’t expect it to be so widely shared on the Internet.

“I didn’t realize the pictures were public and going on the internet and viral but people have the right to do that people can do that that’s the great thing about social media today people can say what they want.”

Asked why he chose to print his signature in script instead of using cursive, Mnuchin explained that he felt his ordinary signature was too sloppy to print on US currency.

“I had a very, very messy signature that you could barely read, and I felt that since it’s going to be on the dollar bill forever that I should have a very clean signature,” Mnuchin said.

An Associated Press photographer captured Mnuchin and Linton posing with the sheet of dollar bills – the first to include Mnuchin’s signature – at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing last week, according to Politico.

After photos of the couple posing with the sheet of newly minted $1 bills went viral, twitter users poked fun at the pair's expensive tastes, with one joking they were shopping for 'bathroom mats' and another calling the sheet of bills, 'their new line of luxury toilet paper.'

This isn’t the first time Mnuchin and his wife have been criticized for appearing out-of-touch: The mockery comes just months after Louise Linton was roundly mocked for a tone-deaf Instagram post authored in response to criticisms of her posing next to a taxpayer funded jet.

Before that, the two were cleared after an investigation into whether they timed a flight in another taxpayer funded chartered jet to coincide with the solar eclipse that happened back in August.

The new bills are expected to enter circulation next month.

http://WarMachines.com

Mnuchin On Bond-Villain Comparisons: “I Guess I Should Take That As A Compliment”

Treasury Secretary and noted Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin provoked criticisms from his political opponents after photos surfaced last week of Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton posing with a sheet of newly printed dollar bills bearing Mnuchin’s signature.

Asked by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace what it was like being compared with a bond villain after the photos went viral, Mnuchin said he took it as a compliment.

“I heard that. I never thought I’d be quoted as looking like a villain from the James Bond [movies]. I guess I should take that as a compliment that I look like a villain in a great, successful James Bond movie,” Mnuchin said.

 

“I was very excited about having my signature on the money and it’s something I’m very proud of being the secretary and helping the American people.”

Mnuchin said he thought nothing of it at the time the photo was taken, saying he didn’t expect it to be so widely shared on the Internet.

“I didn’t realize the pictures were public and going on the internet and viral but people have the right to do that people can do that that’s the great thing about social media today people can say what they want.”

Asked why he chose to print his signature in script instead of using cursive, Mnuchin explained that he felt his ordinary signature was too sloppy to print on US currency.

“I had a very, very messy signature that you could barely read, and I felt that since it’s going to be on the dollar bill forever that I should have a very clean signature,” Mnuchin said.

An Associated Press photographer captured Mnuchin and Linton posing with the sheet of dollar bills – the first to include Mnuchin’s signature – at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing last week, according to Politico.

After photos of the couple posing with the sheet of newly minted $1 bills went viral, twitter users poked fun at the pair's expensive tastes, with one joking they were shopping for 'bathroom mats' and another calling the sheet of bills, 'their new line of luxury toilet paper.'

This isn’t the first time Mnuchin and his wife have been criticized for appearing out-of-touch: The mockery comes just months after Louise Linton was roundly mocked for a tone-deaf Instagram post authored in response to criticisms of her posing next to a taxpayer funded jet.

Before that, the two were cleared after an investigation into whether they timed a flight in another taxpayer funded chartered jet to coincide with the solar eclipse that happened back in August.

The new bills are expected to enter circulation next month.

http://WarMachines.com

The Stage Has Been Set For The Next Financial Crisis

Authored by Constantin Gurdgiev via CaymanFinancialReview.com,

Last month, the Japanese government auctioned off some US$4 billion worth of new two-year bonds at a new record low yield of negative 0.149 percent. The country’s five-year debt is currently yielding minus 0.135 percent per annum, and its 10-year bonds are trading at -0.001 percent. Strange as it may sound, the safe haven status of Japanese bonds means that there is an ample demand among private investors, especially foreign buyers, for giving away free money to the Japanese government: the bid-to-cover ratio in the latest auction was at a hefty US$19.9 billion or 4.97 times the targeted volume. The average bid-to-cover ratio in the past 12 auctions was similar at 4.75 times. Japan’s status as the world’s most indebted advanced economy is not a deterrent to the foreign investors, banking primarily on the expectation that continued strengthening of the yen against the U.S. dollar, the U.K. pound sterling and, to a lesser extent, the euro, will stay on track into the foreseeable future. See chart 1

In a way, the bet on Japanese bonds is the bet that the massive tsunami of monetary easing that hit the global economy since 2008 is not going to recede anytime soon, no matter what the central bankers say in their dovishly-hawkish or hawkishly-dovish public statements. And this expectation is not only contributing to the continued inflation of a massive asset bubble, but also widens the financial sustainability gap within the insurance and pensions sectors. The stage has been set, cleaned and lit for the next global financial crisis.

Worldwide, current stock of government debt trading at negative yields is at or above the US$9 trillion mark, with more than two-thirds of this the debt of the highly leveraged advanced economies. Just under 85 percent of all government bonds outstanding and traded worldwide are carrying yields below the global inflation rate. In simple terms, fixed income investments can only stay in the positive real returns territory if speculative bets made by investors on the direction of the global exchange rates play out.

We are in a multidimensional and fully internationalized carry trade game, folks, which means there is a very serious and tangible risk pool sitting just below the surface across world’s largest insurance companies, pensions funds and banks, the so-called “mandated” undertakings. This pool is the deep uncertainty about the quality of their investment allocations. Regulatory requirements mandate that these financial intermediaries hold a large proportion of their investments in “safe” or “high quality” instruments, a class of assets that draws heavily on higher rated sovereign debt, primarily that of the advanced economies.

The first part of the problem is that with negative or ultra-low yields, this debt delivers poor income streams on the current portfolio. Earlier this year, Stanford’s Hoover Institution research showed that “in aggregate, the 564 state and local systems in the United States covered in this study reported $1.191 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities (net pension liabilities) under GASB 67 in FY 2014. This reflects total pension liabilities of $4.798 trillion and total pension assets (or fiduciary net position) of $3.607 trillion.” This accounts for roughly 97 percent of all public pension funds in the U.S. Taking into the account the pension funds’ penchant for manipulating (in their favor) the discount rates, the unfunded public sector pensions liabilities rise to $4.738 trillion. Key culprit: the U.S. pension funds require 7.5-8 percent average annual returns on their assets to break even on their future expected liabilities. In 2013-2016 they achieved an average return of below 3 percent. This year, things are looking even worse. Last year, Milliman research showed that on average, over 2012-2016, U.S. pension funds held 27-30 percent of their assets in cash (3-4 percent) and bonds (23-27 percent), generating total median returns over the same period of around 1.31 percent per annum.

Not surprisingly, over the recent years, traditionally conservative investment portfolios of the insurance companies and pensions funds have shifted dramatically toward higher risk and more exotic (or in simple parlance, more complex) assets. BlackRock Inc recently looked at the portfolio allocations, as disclosed in regulatory filings, of more than 500 insurance companies. The analysts found that their asset books – investments that sustain insurance companies’ solvency – can be expected to suffer an 11 percent drop in values, on average, in the case of another financial crisis. In other words, half of all the large insurance companies trading in the U.S. markets are currently carrying greater risks on their balance sheets than prior to 2007. Milliman 2016 report showed that among pension funds, share of assets allocated to private equity and real estate rose from 19 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2016.

The reason for this is that the insurance companies, just as the pension funds, re-insurers and other longer-term “mandated” investment vehicles have spent the last eight years loading up on highly risky assets, such as illiquid private equity, hedge funds and real estate. All in the name of chasing the yield: while mainstream low-risk assets-generated income (as opposed to capital gains) returned around zero percent per annum, higher risk assets were turning up double-digit yields through 2014 and high single digits since then. At the end of 2Q 2017, U.S. insurance companies’ holdings of private equity stood at the highest levels in history, and their exposures to direct real estate assets were almost at the levels comparable to 2007. Ditto for the pension funds. And, appetite for both of these high risk asset classes is still there.

The second reason to worry about the current assets mix in insurance and pension funds portfolios relates to monetary policy cycle timing. The prospect of serious monetary tightening is looming on the horizon in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and the eurozone; meanwhile, the risk of the slower rate of bonds monetization in Japan is also quite real. This means that the capital values of the low-risk assets are unlikely to post significant capital gains going forward, which spells trouble for capital buffers and trading income for the mandated intermediaries.

Thirdly, the Central Banks continue to hold large volumes of top-rated debt. As of Aug. 1, 2017, the Fed, Bank of Japan and the ECB held combined US$13.8 trillion worth of assets, with both Bank of Japan (US$4.55 trillion) and the ECB (US$5.1 trillion) now exceeding the Fed holdings (US$4.3 trillion) for the third month in a row.

Debt maturity profiles are exacerbating the risks of contagion from the monetary policy tightening to insurance and pension funds balance sheets. In the case of the U.S., based on data from Pimco, the maturity cliff for the Federal Reserve holdings of the Treasury bonds, Agency debt and TIPS, as well as MBS is falling on 1Q 2018 – 3Q 2020. Per Bloomberg data, the maturity cliff for the U.S. insurers and pensions funds debt assets is closer to 2020-2022. If the Fed simply stops replacing maturing debt – the most likely scenario for unwinding its QE legacy – there will be little market support for prices of assets that dominate capital base of large financial institutions. Prices will fall, values of assets will decline, marking these to markets will trigger the need for new capital. The picture is similar in the U.K. and Canada, but the risks are even more pronounced in the euro area, where the QE started later (2Q 2015 as opposed to the U.S. 1Q 2013) and, as of today, involves more significant interventions in the sovereign bonds markets than at the peak of the Fed interventions.

How distorted the EU markets for sovereign debt have become? At the end of August, Cyprus – a country that suffered a structural banking crisis, requiring bail-in of depositors and complete restructuring of the banking sector in March 2013 – has joined the club of euro area sovereigns with negative yields on two-year government debt. All in, 18 EU member states have negative yields on their two-year paper. All, save Greece, have negative real yields.

The problem is monetary in nature. Just as the entire set of quantitative easing (QE) policies aimed to do, the long period of extremely low interest rates and aggressive asset purchasing programs have created an indirect tax on savers, including the net savings institutions, such as pensions funds and insurers. However, contrary to the QE architects’ other objectives, the policies failed to drive up general inflation, pushing costs (and values) of only financial assets and real estate. This delayed and extended the QE beyond anyone’s expectations and drove unprecedented bubbles in financial capital. Even after the immediate crisis rescinded, growth returned, unemployment fell and the household debt dramatically ticked up, the world’s largest Central Banks continue buying some US$200 billion worth of sovereign and corporate debt per month.

Much of this debt buying produced no meaningfully productive investment in infrastructure or public services, having gone primarily to cover systemic inefficiencies already evident in the state programs. The result, in addition to unprecedented bubbles in property and financial markets, is low productivity growth and anemic private investment. (See chart 2.) As recently warned by the Bank for International Settlements, the global debt pile has reached 325 percent of the world’s GDP, just as the labor and total factor productivity growth measures collapsed.

The only two ways in which these financial and monetary excesses can be unwound involves pain.

The first path – currently favored by the status quo policy elites – is through another transfer of funds from the general population to the financial institutions that are holding the assets caught in the QE net. These transfers will likely start with tax increases, but will inevitably morph into another financial crisis and internal devaluation (inflation and currencies devaluations, coupled with a deep recession).

The alternative is also painful, but offers at least a ray of hope in the end: put a stop to debt accumulation through fiscal and tax reforms, reducing both government spending across the board (and, yes, in the U.S. case this involves cutting back on the coercive institutions and military, among other things) and flattening out personal income tax rates (to achieve tax savings in middle and upper-middle class cohorts, and to increase effective tax rates – via closure of loopholes – for highest earners). As a part of spending reforms, public investment and state pensions provisions should be shifted to private sector providers, while existent public sector pension funds should be forced to raise their members contributions to solvency-consistent levels.

Beyond this, we need serious rethink of the monetary policy institutions going forward. Historically, taxpayers and middle class and professionals have paid for both, the bailouts of the insolvent financial institutions and for the creation of conditions that lead to this insolvency. In other words, the real economy has consistently been charged with paying for utopian, unrealistic and state-subsidizing pricing of risks by the Central Banks. In the future, this pattern of the rounds upon rounds of financial repression policies must be broken.

Whether we like it or not, since the beginning of the Clinton economic bubble in the mid-1990s, the West has lived in a series of carry trade games that transferred real economic resources from the economy to the state. Today, we are broke. If we do not change our course, the next financial crisis will take out our insurers and pensions providers, and with them, the last remaining lifeline to future financial security.

http://WarMachines.com

ECB Proposes End To Deposit Protection

Submitted by GoldCore

It is the 'opinion of the European Central Bank' that the deposit protection scheme is no longer necessary:

'covered deposits and claims under investor compensation schemes should be replaced by limited discretionary exemptions to be granted by the competent authority in order to retain a degree of flexibility.'

To translate the legalese jargon of the ECB bureaucrats this could mean that the current €100,000 (£85,000) deposit level currently protected in the event of a bail-in may soon be no more. But worry not fellow savers, as the ECB is fully aware of the uproar this may cause so they have been kind enough to propose that:

"…during a transitional period, depositors should have access to an appropriate amount of their covered deposits to cover the cost of living within five working days of a request."

So that's a relief, you'll only need to wait five days for some 'competent authority' to deem what is an 'appropriate amount' of your own money for you to have access to in order eat, pay bills and get to work.

The above has been taken from an ECB paper published on 8 November 2017 entitled 'on revisions to the Union crisis management framework'.

It's 58 pages long, the majority of which are proposed amendments to the Union crisis management framework and the current text of the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD).

It's pretty boring reading but there are some key snippets which should be raising a few alarms. It is evidence that once again a central bank can keep manipulating situations well beyond the likes of monetary policy. It is also a lesson for savers to diversify their assets in order to reduce their exposure to counterparty risks.

Bail-ins, who are they for?

According to the May 2016 Financial Stability Review, the EU bail-in tool is 'welcome' as it:

 
 

…contributes to reducing the burden on taxpayers when resolving large, systemic financial institutions and mitigates some of the moral hazard incentives associated with too-big-to-fail institutions.

As we have discussed in the past, we're confused by the apparent separation between 'taxpayer' and those who have put their hard-earned cash into the bank. After all, are they not taxpayers? This doesn't matter, believes Matthew C.Klein in the FT who recently argued that "Bail-ins are theoretically preferable because they preserve market discipline without causing undue harm to innocent people."

 

Ultimately bail-ins are so central banks can keep their merry game of easy money and irresponsibility going. They have been sanctioned because rather than fix and learn from the mess of the bailouts nearly a decade ago, they have just decided to find an even bigger band-aid to patch up the system.

 
 

'Bailouts, by contrast, are unfair and inefficient. Governments tend to do them, however, out of misplaced concern about “preserving the system”. This stokes (justified) resentment that elites care about protecting their friends more than they care about helping regular people.' – Matthew C. Klein

But what about the regular people who have placed their money in the bank, believing they're safe from another financial crisis? Are they not 'innocent' and deserving of protection?

When Klein wrote his latest on bail-ins, it was just over a week before the release of this latest ECB paper. With fairness to Klein at the time of his writing depositors with less than €100,000 in the bank were protected under the terms of the ECB covered deposit rules.

This still seemed absurd to us who thought it questionable that anyone's money in the bank could suddenly be sanctioned for use to prop up an ailing institution. We have regularly pointed out that just because there is currently a protected level at which deposits will not be pilfered, this could change at any minute.

The latest proposed amendments suggest this is about to happen.

 

Why change the bail-in rules?

The ECB's 58-page amendment proposal is tough going but it is about halfway through when you come across the suggestion that 'covered deposits' no longer need to be protected. This is determined because the ECB is concerned about a run on the failing bank:

 
 

If the failure of a bank appears to be imminent, a substantial number of covered depositors might still withdraw their funds immediately in order to ensure uninterrupted access or because they have no faith in the guarantee scheme.

This could be particularly damning for big banks and cause a further crisis of confidence in the system:

 
 

Such a scenario is particularly likely for large banks, where the sheer amount of covered deposits might erode confidence in the capacity of the deposit guarantee scheme. In such a scenario, if the scope of the moratorium power does not include covered deposits, the moratorium might alert covered depositors of the strong possibility that the institution has a failing or likely to fail assessment.

Therefore, argue the ECB the current moratorium that protects deposits could be 'counterproductive'. (For the banks, obviously, not for the people whose money it really is:

 
 

The moratorium would therefore be counterproductive, causing a bank run instead of preventing it. Such an outcome could be detrimental to the bank’s orderly resolution, which could ultimately cause severe harm to creditors and significantly strain the deposit guarantee scheme. In addition, such an exemption could lead to a worse treatment for depositor funded banks, as the exemption needs to be factored in when determining the seriousness of the liquidity situation of the bank. Finally, any potential technical impediments may require further assessment.

The ECB instead proposes that 'certain safeguards' be put in place to allow restricted access to deposits…for no more than five working days. But let's see how long that lasts for.

 
 

Therefore, an exception for covered depositors from the application of the moratorium would cast serious doubts on the overall usefulness of the tool. Instead of mandating a general exemption, the BRRD should instead include certain safeguards to protect the rights of depositors, such as clear communication on when access will be regained and a restriction of the suspension to a maximum of five working days by avoiding a cumulative use by the competent authority and the resolution authority.

Even after a year of studying and reading bail-ins I am still horrified that something like this is deemed to be preferable and fairer to other solutions, namely fixing the banking system. The bureaucrats running the EU and ECB are still blind to the pain such proposals can cause and have caused.

Look to Italy for damage prevention

At the beginning of the month, we explained how the banking meltdown in Veneto Italy destroyed 200,000 savers and 40,000 businesses.

In that same article, we outlined how exposed Italians were to the banking system. Over €31 billion of sub-retail bonds have been sold to everyday savers, investors, and pensioners. It is these bonds that will be sucked into the sinkhole each time a bank goes under.

A 2015 IMF study found that the majority of Italy’s 15 largest banks a bank rescue would ‘imply bail-in of retail investors of subordinated debt’. Only two-thirds of potential bail-ins would affect senior bond-holders, i.e. those who are most likely to be institutional investors rather than pensioners with limited funds.

Why is this the case? As we have previously explained:

 
 

Bondholders are seen as creditors. The same type of creditor that EU rules state must take responsibility for a bank’s financial failure, rather than the taxpayer. This is a bail-in scenario.

 

In a bail-in scenario the type of junior bonds held by the retail investors in the street is the first to take the hit. When the world’s oldest bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena collapsed ordinary people (who also happen to be taxpayers) owned €5 billion ($5.5 billion) of subordinated debt. It vanished.

Despite the biggest bail-in in history occurring within the EU, few people have paid attention and protested against such measures. A bail-in is not unique to Italy, it is possible for all those living and banking within the EU.

Yet, so far there have been no protests. We're not talking about protesting on the streets, we're talking about protesting where it hurts – with your money.

As we have seen from the EU's response to Brexit and Catalonia, officials could not give two hoots about the grievances of its citizens. So when it comes to banking there is little point in expressing disgust in the same way. Instead, investors must take stock and assess the best way for them to protect their savings from the tyranny of central bank policy.

To refresh your memory, the ECB is proposing that in the event of a bail-in it will give you an allowance from your own savings. An allowance it will control:

"…during a transitional period, depositors should have access to an appropriate amount of their covered deposits to cover the cost of living within five working days of a request."

Savers should be looking for means in which they can keep their money within instant reach and their reach only. At this point physical, allocated and segregated gold and silver comes to mind. This gives you outright legal ownership. There are no counterparties who can claim it is legally theirs (unlike with cash in the bank) or legislation that rules they get first dibs on it. Gold and silver are the financial insurance against bail-ins, political mismanagement, and overreaching government bodies. As each year goes by it becomes more pertinent than ever to protect yourself from such risks.

 

http://WarMachines.com

“People Ask, Where’s The Leverage This Time?” – Eric Peters Answers

One of the Fed’s recurring arguments meant to explain why the financial system is more stable now than it was 10 years ago, and is therefore less prone to a Lehman or “Black monday”-type event, (which in turn is meant to justify the Fed’s blowing of a 31x Shiller PE bubble) is that there is generally less leverage in the system, and as a result a sudden, explosive leverage unwind is far less likely… or at least that’s what the Fed’s recently departed vice Chair, and top macroprudential regulator, Stanley Fischer has claimed.

But is Fischer right? Is systemic leverage truly lower? The answer is “of course not” as anyone who has observed the trends not only among vol trading products, where vega has never been higher, but also among corporate leverage, sovereign debt, and the record duration exposure can confirm. It’s just not where the Fed usually would look…

Which is why in the excerpt below, taken from the latest One River asset management weekend notes, CIO Eric Peters explains to US central bankers – and everyone else – not only why the Fed is yet again so precariously wrong, but also where all the record leverage is to be found this time around.

This Time, by Eric Peters

“People ask, ‘Where’s the leverage this time?’” said the investor. Last cycle it was housing, banks.

 

“People ask, ‘Where will we get a loss in value severe enough to sustain an asset price decline?’” he continued. Banks deleveraged, the economy is reasonably healthy.

 

“People say, ‘What’s good for the economy is good for the stock market,’” he said.

 

“People say, ‘I can see that there may be real market liquidity problems, but that’s a short-lived price shock, not a value shock,’” he explained.

 

“You see, people generally look for things they’ve seen before.”

 

“There’s less concentrated leverage in the economy than in 2008, but more leverage spread broadly across the economy this time,” said the same investor.

 

“The leverage is in risk parity strategies. There is greater duration and structural leverage.”

 

As volatility declines and Sharpe ratios rise, investors can expand leverage without the appearance of increasing risk.

 

“People move from senior-secured debt to unsecured. They buy 10yr Italian telecom debt instead of 5yr. This time, the rise in system-wide risk is not explicit leverage, it is implicit leverage.”

 

“Companies are leveraging themselves this cycle,” explained the same investor, marveling at the scale of bond issuance to fund stock buybacks.

 

“When people buy the stock of a company that is highly geared, they have more risk.” It is inescapable.

 

“It is not so much that a few sectors are insanely overvalued or explicitly overleveraged this time, it is that everything is overvalued and implicitly overleveraged,” he said.

 

“And what people struggle to see is that this time it will be a financial accident with economic consequences, not the other way around.”

http://WarMachines.com

Who’s Next? Venezuela’s Collapse Puts These Nations At Risk

"It's a wake-up call for a lot of people who will say ‘Look, the stuff I own is actually very risky'…" warns Ray Jian, who oversees about $6 billion at Pioneer Investment Management Ltd. in London. "People have been ignoring risks in places like Lebanon for a long time," and the official default of Venezuela this week has emerging-market money managers are looking to identify countries that might run into trouble down the road.

While Bloomberg reports that while none are nearly as badly off as Venezuelawhere a combination of low oil prices, economic mismanagement and U.S. sanctions did the country in –  traders are scouting for credit risk, from Lebanon, where Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation has once again thrust the nation into a Saudi-Iran proxy war, to Ecuador, where recently elected President Lenin Moreno continues to expand the debt load in a country with a history as a serial defaulter.

1. Lebanon:

One of the world’s most indebted countries, Lebanon may hit a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of 152 percent this year, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts. That’s coming at a time when political tension is rising. Hariri’s abrupt resignation, announced from Riyadh on Nov. 4, triggered about $800 million of withdrawals from the country as investors speculated that the nation would be in the crosshairs of a regional feud between the Saudis and Iranians. While the central bank says the worst may be over, credit-default swaps have hit a nine-year high.

2. Ecuador:

After a borrowing spree, the Andean nation’s external debt obligations over the next 12 months ballooned to a nine-year high relative to the size of its GDP. Ecuador probably has the highest default risk after Venezuela, according to Robert Koenigsberger, the chief investment officer of Gramercy Funds Management. The country will be vulnerable “when the liquidity environment changes and they can no longer go to the market to get $2.5 billion to plug the hole," he said. Finance Minister Carlos de la Torre told Bloomberg in an email on Thursday that there is "no default risk" for any of Ecuador’s debt commitments and the nation’s indebtedness is nowhere near "critical" levels.

3. Ukraine:

While the Eastern European nation’s credit-default swaps have declined from their 2015 highs, persistent economic struggles are giving traders reason for caution. GDP expansion has slowed for three consecutive quarters and the World Bank warns that the economy is at risk of falling into a low-growth trap. Ukraine’s parliament approved next year’s budget on Tuesday as it eyes a $17.5 billion international bailout.

4. Egypt:

Egypt’s credit-default swaps are hovering near the highest since September. The cost for protection surged in June as regional tensions heated up amid a push by the Saudis to isolate Qatar. While Egypt has been able to boost foreign-currency reserves and is on course to repay $14 billion in principal and interest in 2018, its foreign debt has climbed to $79 billion from $55.8 billion a year earlier.

5. Pakistan:

Pakistan’s credit-default swaps surged in late October and linger near their highest level since June. South Asia’s second-largest economy faces challenges as it struggles with dwindling foreign reserves, rising debt payments and a ballooning current account deficit. Pakistan is mulling a potential $2 billion debt sale later this year. Speaking at the Bloomberg Pakistan Economic Forum last week, central bank Deputy Governor Jameel Ahmad played down concerns over the country’s widening twin deficits.

6. Bahrain:

Bahrain’s spread rose dramatically in late October to the highest since January after it was said to ask Gulf allies for aid. The nation is seeking to replenish international reserves and avert a currency devaluation as oil prices batter the six Gulf Cooperation Council oil producers. Although its neighbors are likely to help, Bahrain could still be left with the highest budget deficit in the region, according to the IMF.

7. Turkey:

Despite high yields, investors are still reluctant to buy Turkish bonds. The nation has been caught up in a blur of political crises, driving spreads on credit-default swaps to their highest level since May. Turkey was the only holdover on S&P Global Ratings’s latest “Fragile Five” list of countries most vulnerable to normalization in global monetary conditions.

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Golden Catalysts

Authored by James Rickards via The Daily Reckoning,

The physical fundamentals are stronger than ever for gold.

Russia and China continue to be huge buyers. China bans export of its 450 tons per year of physical production.

Gold refiners are working around the clock and cannot meet demand.

Gold refiners are also having difficulty finding gold to refine as mining output, official bullion sales and scrap inflows all remain weak.

Private bullion continues to migrate from bank vaults at UBS and Credit Suisse into nonbank vaults at Brinks and Loomis, thus reducing the floating supply available for bank unallocated gold sales.

In other words, the physical supply situation has been tight as a drum.

The problem, of course, is unlimited selling in “paper” gold markets such as the Comex gold futures and similar instruments.

One of the flash crashes this year was precipitated by the instantaneous sale of gold futures contracts equal in underlying amount to 60 tons of physical gold. The largest bullion banks in the world could not source 60 tons of physical gold if they had months to do it.

There’s just not that much gold available. But in the paper gold market, there’s no limit on size, so anything goes.

There’s no sense complaining about this situation. It is what it is, and it won’t be broken up anytime soon. The main source of comfort is knowing that fundamentals always win in the long run even if there are temporary reversals. What you need to do is be patient, stay the course and buy strategically when the drawdowns emerge.

Where do we go from here?

There are many compelling reasons why gold should outperform over the coming months.

Deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia will only accelerate Russia’s efforts to diversify its reserves away from dollar assets (which can be frozen by the U.S. on a moment’s notice) to gold assets, which are immune to asset freezes and seizures.

The countdown to war with North Korea is underway, as I’ve explained repeatedly in these pages. A U.S. attack on the North Korean nuclear and missile weapons programs is likely by mid-2018.

Finally, we have to deal with our friends at the Fed. Good jobs numbers have given life to the view that the Fed will raise interest rates next month. The standard answer is that rate hikes make the dollar stronger and are a head wind for the dollar price of gold.

But I remain skeptical about a December hike. As I explained above, the market is looking in the wrong places for clues to Fed policy. Jobs reports are irrelevant; that was “mission accomplished” for the Fed years ago.

The key data are disinflation numbers. That’s what has the Fed concerned, and that’s why the Fed might pause again in December as it did last September.

We’ll have a better idea when PCE core inflation comes out Nov. 30.

Of course, the Fed’s main inflation metric has been moving in the wrong direction since January. The readings on the core PCE deflator year over year (the Fed’s preferred metric) were:

January 1.9%

February 1.9%

March 1.6%

April 1.6%

May 1.5%

June 1.5%

July 2017: 1.4%

August 2017: 1.3%

September 2017: 1.3%

Again, the October data will not be available until Nov. 30.

The Fed’s target rate for this metric is 2%. It will take a sustained increase over several months for the Fed to conclude that inflation is back on track to meet the Fed’s goal.

There’s obviously no chance of this happening before the Fed’s December meeting.

A weak dollar is the Fed’s only chance for more inflation. The way to get a weak dollar is to delay rate hikes indefinitely, and that’s what I believe the Fed will do.

And a weak dollar means a higher dollar price for gold.

Current levels look like the last stop before $1,300 per ounce. After that, a price surge is likely as buyers jump on the bandwagon, and then it’s up, up and away.

Why do I say that?

There’s an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This chart is a good example of why that’s true:

Gold Breakout Chart

Gold analyst Eddie Van Der Walt produced this 10-year chart for the dollar price of gold showing that gold prices have been converging into a narrow tunnel between two price trends – one trending higher and one lower – for the past six years.

This pattern has been especially pronounced since 2015. You can see gold has traded up and down in a range between $1,050 and $1,380 per ounce. The upper trend line and the lower trend line converge into a funnel.

Since gold will not remain in that funnel much longer (because it converges to a fixed price) gold will likely “break out” to the upside or downside, typically with a huge move that disrupts the pattern.

At the extreme, this could imply a gold price on its way to $1,800 or $800 per ounce. Which will it be?

The evidence overwhelmingly supports the thesis that gold will break out to the upside. Central banks are determined to get more inflation and will flip to easing policies if that’s what it takes.

Geopolitical risks are piling up from North Korea, to Saudi Arabia, to the South China Sea and beyond.

The failure of the Trump agenda has put the stock market on edge and a substantial market correction may be in the cards. Acute shortages of physical gold have also set the stage for a delivery failure or a short squeeze.

Any one of these developments is enough to send gold soaring in response to a panic or as part of a flight to quality. The only force that could take gold lower is deflation, and that is the one thing central banks will never allow. The above chart is one of the most powerful bullish indicators I’ve ever seen.

Get ready for an explosion to the ups ide in the dollar price of gold. Make sure you have your physical gold and gold mining shares before the breakout begins.

http://WarMachines.com

The ‘Junkie’ Market Is Back

Via Dana Lyons' Tumblr,

The past few days have seen a reversal from substantial net New lows to substantial net New highs – a condition that has preceded poor performance in the past.

We’ve posted several pieces in the past regarding what we’ve termed “Junkie Markets” – junctures characterized by a substantial number of both New 52-Week Highs and New 52-Week Lows.

Such conditions represent a key component of various and notorious market warning signals, such as the Hindenburg Omen and others. As the ominous sounding names would imply, the historical stock market performance following such signals has been poor. We have found the same to be true with respect to our “Junkie Markets”. Today’s Chart Of The Day deals with a new variation of the Junkie Market.

Specifically, we have seen an unusual development over the past 2 days. On Wednesday, the number of net New Lows on the NYSE, i.e., New Lows minus New Highs, exceeded 2% of all exchange issues, a fairly large amount. The very next day, yesterday, conditions completely reversed as we saw net New NYSE Highs, i.e. New Highs minus New Lows, actually account for more than 2% of all issues. If you think that sounds strange, you’re correct. It is just the 15th such occurrence since the start of our data in 1970.

image

Here are the dates of these reversals:

3/25/1970
4/14/1972
7/11/1974
10/20/1977
1/2/2001
4/22/2004
5/11/2004
4/18/2006
6/28/2007
7/19/2007
9/19/2008
5/30/2013
10/10/2013
1/15/2015
11/16/2017

What would cause such a phenomenon? Well, the only thing we can offer is that a Junkie Market, i.e., one with lots of New Highs and Lows, is really the only type of market in which such a reversal is even possible. Thus, it should not be surprising that the S&P 500’s aggregate performance going forward following these precedents has been less than stellar (incidentally, aggregate performance is similar following the 19 occasions of the opposite reversals, i.e., >2% Net New Highs to >2% Net New Lows).

image

With median returns negative from 1 week to 6 months, this appears to be another version of the Junkie Market that, for whatever reason, has not been kind to stocks going forward. Obviously, the presence of signals near cyclical peaks in the early 1970’s as well as 2001 and 2007-2008 do not help the aggregate returns (average returns are even worse than median).

Now, not all signals have occurred at the beginning of cyclical bear markets. However, as the chart shows, one interesting observation is that all of the occurrences have occurred during secular bear markets (that is, of course, if one accepts that we are still within the confines of the post-2000 secular bear market, as is our view – that is a topic for another time, though). The point is that, if true, the ramifications may reinforce the negative tendencies associated with Junkie Markets.

The bottom line for now is that, while it is certainly possible that stocks can continue higher in the interim, this condition of elevated New Highs and New Lows is a potential unhealthy headwind in the longer-term.

*  *  *

If you’re interested in the “all-access” version of our charts and research, please check out The Lyons Share. Find out what we’re investing in, when we’re getting in – and when we’re getting out. Considering that we may well be entering an investment environment tailor made for our active, risk-managed approach, there has never been a better time to reap the benefits of this service. Thanks for reading!

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Hunting Angels: What The World’s Most Bearish Hedge Fund Will Short Next

It's not easy being "the world's most bearish hedge fund", a description we first conceived nearly three years ago, and one look at Horseman Capital's returns over the past three years confirms it: after generating market-beating returns for much of its existence, things went bad in 2015, and much worse in 2016…

… when the Fund had a record net short equity position of over -100%, just as the market ripped higher after the Trump election.

That said, 2017 has been much better for Horseman and its CIO Russell Clark, who correctly timed the year's two big short trades so far: the mall REIT and the shale shorts.

Unfortunately, his other positions stood in the way, and as of the end of October (a good month with 2.04% in P&L), the fund is just 0.25% up on the year. Worse, after a period of calm, steady, upward grinding monthly performance for much of the previous several years, Horseman's sharpe ratio has cratered, as the monthly return variance surged, with a -6% month following two +7% months as a result of gross leverage that has never been higher, even if the net equity position – while still largely short – is far more manageable than it was in 2016.

Still, having been well ahead of the pack on the two big shorts of 2017, most money managers are always curious what if anything Clark – and Horseman – are shorting next. Well, they are in luck, because in his latest letter, he unveils the answer: according to Clark, the next major source of alpha will be shorting fallen angel bonds.

In his November letter to clients, Clark explains why he is hunting for soon to be "fallen angels", and where he got the idea from. And after more fund managers read the following excerpt, we have a feeling that the next big leg lower in not only junk, but also crossover credit, is imminent:

Mifid II will come into force soon, and a lot of research that used to be free, will need to be paid for. This has been a reason to ask ourselves some serious questions, namely what research do I read, and what has made me the most money. Strangely the research that has been most profitable for me, will remain free even post Mifid II as it is publicly available. The International Monetary Fund produces Global Financial Stability Reports. The stand out report for me was the April 2008 report that highlighted Eastern European banks vulnerability to wholesale funding. I shorted many of the banks named in the report. Most fell 70% to 90% subsequently.

 

What does the most recent issue of the Global Financial Stability Report have to say? It notes that BBB bonds now make up nearly 50% of the index of investment grade bonds, an all time high. BBB bonds are only one notch above high yield, and are at the greatest risk of becoming fallen angels, that is bonds that were investment grade when issued, but subsequently get downgraded to below investment grade, or what is known these days as high yield. It then points out that investors have never been more at risk of capital loss if yields were to rise. In addition, it notes volatility targeting investors will mechanically increase leverage as volatility drops, with variable annuities investors having little flexibility to deviate from target volatility. Another interesting point was that mutual fund share of the high yield market in the US have risen from 17% in 2008 to 30% today, and notes that investors outflows have become much more sensitive to losses than they used to be.

 

So my favourite research (love the price!) is telling me that US investment grade debt is very low quality, and could produce some large fallen angels. It then goes on to tell me that mutual funds are much larger in the high yield market than they used to be. It also tells me low rates means the capital losses are much higher than they used to be. And that investors in high yield mutual funds are much flightier than they used to be! Essentially the IMF are telling me that if you get a large enough fallen angel, the high yield market will freak out, and volatility will spike causing volatility targeting investors to dump leveraged positions. Sounds good to me – but with growth so good and the market so strong, how on earth would we get a fallen angel?

 

To find a potential fallen angel, I looked through the holdings of investment grade bond ETFs to find large BBB bond issuers. The biggest of the BBB issuers happened to be the large telecommunication companies. The sector has over USD300bn of BBB rated debt compared to a high-yield market of USD 1tn. I am not a debt specialist, but I have noticed that falling share prices tend to be good lead indicators on debt downgrades, and the US telecommunication sector has not been participating in the market rally this year. The story looks good to me, and it comes via my favourite research source. US debt markets look in trouble to me, whether that has any effect on broader equity markets remains to be seen.

Aside from this rather original idea, some other notable changes in Horseman's industry exposure are noted: while both the retail and E&P shorts are still there, they have been notably tamed, and of note are two other major shorts (both in the US): one in real estate (we assume this is a play on the adverse impact of rising rates on real estate valuations), and the healthcare sector, a short whose thesis is quite interesting and we will reveal tomorrow.

For those wondering, the top 10 positions by % of NAV are the following:

Needless to say, we wish Horseman much success with a prompt realization of his BBB-short, especially since it appears that his LPs are starting to get cold feet, and the fund's AUM has shrunk by half from $2.8 BN  one year ago…

… to less than half, or $1.2BN currently.

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Unbridled Exuberance…

Authored by James Stack via InvesTech.com,

From public confidence to bullish sentiment to the normally mundane employment data, the U.S. economy and stock market are reaching historic levels not seen in decades.  Last month, consumer confidence hit its highest level since December 2000.  The percentage of bullish investment advisors recently touched lofty levels that were last reached in January 1987.  And this month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that job layoffs dropped to a 44-year low!

This might all sound like great news, and on the surface it obviously is.  But what is forgotten in today’s exuberant celebrations – and the above statistics – is that both the economy and stock market historically peak when skies are blue and no storm clouds are in sight: December 2000 was just 3 months before the start of the 2001 recession. January 1987 was 9 months before Black Monday struck. And 44 years ago (1973), the stock market was about to suffer its worst annual loss in 35 years! If the S&P 500 closes higher in November, it will have posted a positive total return for 13 consecutive months, surpassed only once in 90 years – 1959.  The next year (1960) the economy entered a recession.

We’re not sharing these insights because we have turned bearish in our market outlook.  We haven’t.  Most technical evidence and virtually all macroeconomic data still point to new bull market highs immediately ahead.  However, it is becoming increasingly important to remember that trees do not grow to the sky, and bull markets do not last forever.  And don’t forget that virtually every bear market except one (1956) has repossessed or taken back roughly one-half or more of the previous bull market’s gain. 

Today, that would equate to 8,500 DJIA points!

Unbridled Exuberance… While the Novice Make Merry, the Seasoned are Wary

One of the most apparent examples of investors’ increased appetite for risk lies in the “FANG” stocks.  These modern day “four horsemen” of technology and consumer stocks –Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google– are considered leaders in the emergent areas of today’s economy.  Because of their outsized estimates for future growth, this narrow group of stocks has radically outperformed the S&P 500 since the beginning of 2015.

However, value-conscious investors have had difficulty justifying ownership of this speculative quartet due to valuation risk.

They trade at a combined P/E ratio of 48.5 based on trailing earnings – nearly twice that of the S&P 500.

Enthusiasm for the FANG stocks has reached such a feverish pitch that Wall Street is creating new products to tap into the public’s insatiable appetite for these exciting invest ments.  The four FANG stocks are joined by six other hot tech names to form the NYSE FANG+ Index.  Futures contracts on this Index began trading on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) last week.   Investors can now “Trade the Top of Tech” in the futures market to quickly increase or decrease their exposure to these speculative companies.

In past market tops of the late 1990s and 2007 we exposed the danger of investor and consumer exuberance along with the “boom” headlines that typically accompany a cyclical peak.  This is not an infallible relationship, however, so the appearance of the above headlines today does not necessarily mean the market top is in place.  Rather, it reinforces the need to maintain professional skepticism and an emphasis on risk management, which can be in short supply at this stage in the market cycle.

Nowhere is the bullish consensus more obvious than in the Advisors Sentiment Survey tracked by Investors Intelligence (graph below).  While the percentage of bears is typically considered a more reliable contrarian indicator at extreme readings, we find it interesting to note that the percentage of bullish advisors recently hit the highest level since January 1987 – only nine months before the 1987 Crash…

Valuation risk remains an overarching concern for today’s aging bull market.  Although the leading economic evidence remains overwhelmingly positive, U.S. stocks are not cheap by historical standards.  The current P/E ratio of the S&P 500 based on trailing earnings is 24.8, which is well above the 90-year average, as shown in the graph below. 

How expensive is the S&P 500 today?  The P/E for this popular Index has exceeded 24.0 just over 10% of the time since 1928, as shown by the dark blue bars on the graph at right.  The light blue bars eliminate the distortions from the Technology Bubble of the late 1990s and the Financial Crisis in 2008-09 when corporate earnings evaporated.  If we exclude those extreme periods, the S&P 500 P/E ratio has been in the rarified range above 24.0 less than 3% of the time. 

Lofty valuations do not cause bear markets, and stocks can remain overvalued for very long periods of time.  However, high valuations increase downside risk and diminish the margin of safety so essential to successful long-term investing.  Consequently, it is particularly important now to employ a safety-first strategy and avoid overvalued momentum stocks, as they will undoubtedly fall the hardest when a bear market does arrive. 

A Potential Warning in the Technical Evidence…

Sometimes it’s striking how quickly the technical picture can shift in an aging bull market.  Take the three graphs below, for instance.  When we last published this trio of charts in early October, all three were hitting new highs in unison.   Now both the Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJTA) and the small-cap Russell 2000 Index are starting to diverge substantially from the blue chip DJIA, which is sitting just below its recent all-time high.

Major peaks in the DJIA are usually preceded by a top in one or more of the economicallysensitive secondary indexes, but not every divergence necessarily signals trouble ahead.

When both the secondary indexes shown here diverge simultaneously, however, it’s a significant development, and time for heightened vigilance.

NLC:  Is Distribution Imminent?

Our Negative Leadership Composite (NLC) shown below remains steadfast on the surface with the bullish “Selling Vacuum” [*1] at +4 and no visible sign of “Distribution” [*2 – shaded region]…  yet! 

Even so, careful analysis of the underlying leadership data since mid-October shows a steady deterioration in the internal numbers.

Sometimes it’s striking how quickly the technical picture can shift in an aging bull market.  Take the three graphs at right, for instance.  When we last published this trio of charts in early October, all three were hitting new highs in unison.   Now both the Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJTA) and the small-cap Russell 2000 Index are starting to diverge substantially from the blue chip DJIA, which is sitting just below its recent all-time high.

Major peaks in the DJIA are usually preceded by a top in one or more of the economically-sensitive secondary indexes, but not every divergence necessarily signals trouble ahead. 

When both the secondary indexes shown here diverge simultaneously, however, it’s a significant development, and time for heightened vigilance.

Selling pressure is stealthily creeping upward, and it appears to be broad-based. If the current trend continues, we could start to see Distribution in our NLC by the time our December issue goes to press.  If Distribution appears and subsequently drops below -50, then bear market risk will become elevated and that could warrant a more defensive stance

 

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The Great Retirement Con

Authored by Adam Taggart via PeakProsperity.com,

Frankly put: retirement is now a myth for the majority…

 

The Origins Of The Retirement Plan

Back during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress promised a monthly lifetime income to soldiers who fought and survived the conflict. This guaranteed income stream, called a "pension", was again offered to soldiers in the Civil War and every American war since.

Since then, similar pension promises funded from public coffers expanded to cover retirees from other branches of government. States and cities followed suit — extending pensions to all sorts of municipal workers ranging from policemen to politicians, teachers to trash collectors.

A pension is what's referred to as a defined benefit plan. The payout promised a worker upon retirement is guaranteed up front according to a formula, typically dependent on salary size and years of employment.

Understandably, workers appreciated the security and dependability offered by pensions. So, as a means to attract skilled talent, the private sector started offering them, too. 

The first corporate pension was offered by the American Express Company in 1875. By the 1960s, half of all employees in the private sector were covered by a pension plan.

Off-loading Of Retirement Risk By Corporations

Once pensions had become commonplace, they were much less effective as an incentive to lure top talent. They started to feel like burdensome cost centers to companies.

As America's corporations grew and their veteran employees started hitting retirement age, the amount of funding required to meet current and future pension funding obligations became huge. And it kept growing. Remember, the Baby Boomer generation, the largest ever by far in US history, was just entering the workforce by the 1960s.

Companies were eager to get this expanding liability off of their backs. And the more poorly-capitalized firms started defaulting on their pensions, stiffing those who had loyally worked for them.

So, it's little surprise that the 1970s and '80s saw the introduction of personal retirement savings plans. The Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) was formed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in 1974. And the first 401k plan was created in 1980.

These savings vehicles are defined contribution plans. The future payout of the plan is variable (i.e., unknown today), and will be largely a function of how much of their income the worker directs into the fund over their career, as well as the market return on the fund's investments.

Touted as a revolutionary improvement for the worker, these plans promised to give the individual power over his/her own financial destiny. No longer would it be dictated by their employer.

Your company doesn't offer a pension? No worries: open an IRA and create your own personal pension fund.

Afraid your employer might mismanage your pension fund? A 401k removes that risk. You decide how your retirement money is invested.

Want to retire sooner? Just increase the percent of your annual income contributions.

All this sounded pretty good to workers. But it sounded GREAT to their employers.

Why? Because it transferred the burden of retirement funding away from the company and onto its employees. It allowed for the removal of a massive and fast-growing liability off of the corporate balance sheet, and materially improved the outlook for future earnings and cash flow.

As you would expect given this, corporate America moved swiftly over the next several decades to cap pension participation and transition to defined contribution plans.

The table below shows how vigorously pensions (green) have disappeared since the introduction of IRAs and 401ks (red):

(Source)

So, to recap: 40 years ago, a grand experiment was embarked upon. One that promised US workers: Using these new defined contribution vehicles, you'll be better off when you reach retirement age.

Which raises a simple but very important question: How have things worked out?

The Ugly Aftermath

America The Broke

Well, things haven't worked out too well.

Three decades later, what we're realizing is that this shift from dedicated-contribution pension plans to voluntary private savings was a grand experiment with no assurances. Corporations definitely benefited, as they could redeploy capital to expansion or bottom line profits. But employees? The data certainly seems to show that the experiment did not take human nature into account enough – specifically, the fact that just because people have the option to save money for later use doesn't mean that they actually will.

First off, not every American worker (by far) is offered a 401k or similar retirement plan through work. But of those that are, 21% choose not to participate (source).

As a result, 1 in 4 of those aged 45-64 and 22% of those 65+ have $0 in retirement savings (source). Forty-nine percent of American adults of all ages aren't saving anything for retirement.

In 2016, the Economic Policy Institute published an excellent chartbook titled The State Of American Retirement (for those inclined to review the full set of charts on their website, it's well worth the time). The EPI's main conclusion from their analysis is that the switchover of the US workforce from defined-benefit pension plans to self-directed retirement savings vehicles (e..g, 401Ks and IRAs) has resulted in a sizeable drop in retirement preparedness. Retirement wealth has not grown fast enough to keep pace with our aging population.

The stats illustrated by the EPI's charts are frightening on a mean, or average, level. For instance, for all workers 32-61, the average amount saved for retirement is less than $100,000. That's not much to live on in the last decades of your twilight years. And that average savings is actually lower than it was back in 2007, showing that households have still yet to fully recover the wealth lost during the Great Recession.

But mean numbers are skewed by the outliers. In this case, the multi-$million households are bringing up the average pretty dramatically, making things look better than they really are. It's when we look at the median figures that things get truly scary:

Nearly half of families have no retirement account savings at all. That makes median (50th percentile) values low for all age groups, ranging from $480 for families in their mid-30s to $17,000 for families approaching retirement in 2013. For most age groups, median account balances in 2013 were less than half their pre-recession peak and lower than at the start of the new millennium.

(Source)

The 50th percentile household aged 56-61 has only $17,000 to retire on. That's dangerously close to the Federal poverty level income for a family of two for just a single year.

Most planners advise saving enough before retirement to maintain annual living expenses at about 70-80% of what they were during one's income-earning years. Medicare out-of-pocket costs alone are expected to be between $240,000 and $430,000 over retirement for a 65-year-old couple retiring today.

The gap between retirement savings and living costs in one's later years is pretty staggering:

  • Nearly 83% of retired households have less saved than Medicare costs alone will consume.
  • One-third of retired households are entirely dependent on Social Security. On average, that's only $1,230 per month a hard income to live on. (source)
  • 34 percent of older Americans depend on credit cards to pay for basic living expenses such as mortgage payments, groceries, and utilities. (source

As for Medicare, the out-of-pocket costs could easily soar over retirement. The Wall Street Journal reports that the current estimate of Medicare's unfunded liability now tops $42 Trillion. Such a mind-boggling gap makes it highly likely that current retirees will not receive all of the entitlements they are being promised.

And the denial being shown by baby boomers entering retirement is frightening. Many simply plan to work longer before retiring, with a growing percentage saying they plan to work "forever". 

But the data shows that declining health gives older Americans no choice but to leave the work force eventually, whether they want to or not. Years of surveys by the Employment Benefit Research Institute show that fully half of current retirees had to leave the work force sooner than desired due to health problems, disability, or layoffs.

Add to this the nefarious impact of the Federal Reserve's prolonged 0% interest rate policy, which has made it extremely hard for retirees with fixed-income investments to generate a meaningful income from them.

The number of Americans aged 65 years and older is projected to more than double in the next 40 years:

Will the remaining body of active workers be able to support this tsunami of underfunded seniors? Don't bet on it.

Especially since their retirement savings prospects are even more dim. With long-stagnant real wages and punishing price inflation in the cost of living, Generation X and Millennials are hard-pressed to put money away for their twilight years:

(Source)

Public Pensions: Broken Promises

And for those "lucky" folks expecting to enjoy a public pension, there's a lot of uncertainty as to whether they're going to receive all they've been promised.

Due to underfunded contributions, years of portfolio under-performance due to the Federal Reserve's 0% interest rate policy, poor fund management, and other reasons, many of the federal and state pensions are woefully under-captialized. The below chart from former Dallas Fed advisor Danielle DiMartino-Booth shows how the total sum of unfunded public pension obligations exploded from $292 billion in 2007 to $1.9 trillion by the end of 2016:

(Source)

And the daily headlines of failing state and local pension funds (Illinois, Kentucky, New JerseyDallas, Providence — to name but a few) show that the problem is metastasizing across the nation at an accelerating rate.

Affording Your Future

The bottom line when it comes to retirement is that you're on your own. The vehicles and the promises you've been given are proving woefully insufficient to fund the "retirement" dream you've been sold your whole life.

That's the bad news.

But the good news is that the dream is still attainable. There are strategies and behaviors that, if adopted now, will make it much more likely for you to be able to afford to retire — and in a way you can enjoy.

In Part 2: Success Strategies For Retirement, we detail out these best practices for a solvent retirement, including providing 14 specific action steps you can start taking right now in your life that will materially improve your odds of enjoying your later years with grace. For far too many Americans, "retirement" will remain a perpetual myth. Don't let that happen to you. Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

 

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Moody’s Boosts Modi: India Gets First Sovereign Credit Upgrade Since 2004

Moody’s upgrade to India’s credit rating comes as a much-needed boost for India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has been criticised for the fallout from the goods and services tax (GST) and demonetisation reforms. Indeed, Moody’s argued that Modi’s reforms will help to stabilize India’s rising debt levels. According to Reuters.

Moody's Investors Service upgraded its ratings on India's sovereign bonds for the first time in nearly 14 years on Friday, saying continued progress on economic and institutional reform will boost the country's growth potential. The agency said it was lifting India's rating to Baa2 from Baa3 and changed its rating outlook to stable from positive as risks to India's credit profile were broadly balanced. Moody's upgrade, its first since January 2004, moves India's rating to the second lowest level of investment grade. The upgrade is a shot in the arm for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and the reforms it has pushed through, and it comes just weeks after the World Bank moved India up 30 places in its annual ease of doing business rankings.

Moody's believes that Modi’s reforms have reduced the risk of a sharp increase in India’s debt, even in potential negative scenarios. On the GST reform, which converted India's 29 states into a single customs union, the rating agency expects it to boost productivity by removing barriers to inter-state trade. In addition, the recent $32 billion recapitalisation of state banks and the reform of the bankruptcy code are beginning to address India’s sovereign credit profile.

"While the capital injection will modestly increase the government's debt burden in the near term, it should enable banks to move forward with the resolution of NPLs."

Following the upgrade, India’s S&P BSE Sensex Index rose 1.1%, with metals, property and banks the strongest performers. The Sensex has risen 25% so far in 2017, while the banks sector is 42% higher. Retail investors have piled into financial assets and the banking system has been awash with funds since Modi unexpectedly banned high denomination bank notes last November.

As Reuters notes, the Indian government had been unsuccessful at persuading Moody’s to upgrade the rating in 2016.

Last year, India lobbied hard with Moody's for an upgrade, but failed. The agency raised doubts about the country's debt levels and fragile banks, and declined to budge despite the government's criticism of their rating methodology. The government cheered the upgrade on Friday with Economic Affairs Secretary S. Garg telling reporters the rating upgrade was a recognition of economic reforms undertaken over three years.

The Rupee and Indian bonds also rallied on the Moody’s announcement – although some debt traders expressed scepticism that the rally was sustainable.

"It seems like Santa Claus has already opened his bag of goodies," said Lakshmi Iyer, head of fixed income at Kotak Mutual Fund said. "The move is overall positive for bonds which were caught in a negative spiral. This is a structural positive which would lead to easing in yields across tenors," she said. 

 

The benchmark 10-year bond yield was down 10 basis points at 6.96 percent, the rupee was trading stronger at 64.76 per dollar versus the previous close of 65.3250. "We have been expecting it for a long time and this was long overdue and is very positive for the market. Looks like sentiments are going to become positive," said Sunil Sharma, chief investment officer with Sanctum Wealth Management. However, debt traders said the rally was unlikely to last beyond a few days as the coming heavy bond supply and hawkish inflation outlook were unlikely to change soon.

 

"Who has the guts to continue buying in this market?" said a bond trader at a private bank.

India has basked in its status as the world’s fastest growing major economy and Moody’s forecasts suggests that it will continue to outpace China’s roughly 6.5% growth, but only marginally. In the fiscal year to March 2018, Moody’s expects the Indian economy to grow at 6.7% versus last year’s 7.1%. From Reuters.

Moody's noted that while a number of key reforms remain at the design phase, it believes those already implemented will advance the government's objective of improving the business climate, enhancing productivity and stimulating investment. “Longer term, India's growth potential is significantly higher than most other Baa-rated sovereigns," said Moody's.

Bloomberg published some initial reactions from portfolio managers and analysts.

Luke Spajic (head of portfolio management for emerging Asia at Pacific Asset Management Co. in Singapore)

  • “The upgrade came sooner than expected. India has undertaken some tough but necessary reforms like demonetization and the GST, the benefits of which are yet to be fully calculated”
  • “India is on the right long-term path with capital markets — in both debt and equity — pricing in potential improvements in investment quality”

Lin Jing Leong (investment manager, Asia fixed income, at Aberdeen Standard Investments in Singapore)

  • “The upgrade has been long time coming” given Modi’s reform ambitions. “This is not a surprise — we do believe all the rating agencies have been behind the curve somewhat”
  • Initial Indian market reaction is likely to be knee-jerk, but we still expect dollar-India credit spreads, onshore India bonds and the rupee to continue outperforming the broader Asia and emerging-market bloc.

Navneet Munot (chief investment officer at SBI Funds Management Pvt. in Mumbai)

  • This will boost global investors’ confidence in India, but factors like world monetary policy shifts and company earnings will also be key to foreign inflows.
  • Investors like us who have long positions on India always expected an upgrade.
  • The firm has been boosting equity holdings in Indian corporate lenders, industrial and telecommunications companies.

Nischal Maheshwari (head of institutional equities at Edelweiss Securities Ltd. in Mumbai)

  • Equity markets have already given a thumbs up to the news”.
  • It will lead to a reduction in borrowing costs, which is a major improvement.
  • “For foreign investors in equity, it doesn’t change much as their concerns around high stock valuations remain. However, their commitment to the country is in place and the upgrade will only help reiterate their position”.

Shameek Ray (head of debt capital markets at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership in Mumbai)

  • Foreign investors won’t be able to take full advantage of the positive sentiment from the upgrade as quotas for them to buy into rupee-denominated government and corporate debt are full, Ray says.
  • “Whenever these quotas open up there will be keen interest to take India exposure,” but in the meantime Indian companies will get more access to offshore markets.
  • “We could see them pricing dollar or Masala bonds at tighter levels”.

Ken Hu (chief investment officer for Asia-Pacific fixed income at Invesco Hong Kong Ltd.)

  • The upgrade confirms Invesco’s positive view on India’s structural economic reforms.
  • “With more political capital, Modi and his party are able to launch more difficult but more impactful structural reforms. The positive feedback loop will continue to lead to more credit rating upgrades of India in future”.

Chakri Lokapriya (managing director at TCG Asset Management in Mumbai)

  • The upgrade is “very positive for banks, infrastructure and cyclical sectors”.
  • “Banks will benefit strongly as their credit costs come down leading to a reduction in interest costs for infrastructure and manufacturing companies”.

Ashley Perrott (head of pan-Asian fixed income at UBS Asset Management in Singapore)

  • The upgrade is a bit of a surprise, so the market is likely to see some initial bond-spread tightening.
  • “But raising one notch does not make much difference from a fundamental perspective”.

Avinash Thakur (managing director of debt capital markets at Barclays Plc in Hong Kong)

  • “The upgrade should help issuers from India as they are no longer on the cusp of investment grade”.
  • “It makes a big difference to investors and we will see more dollar bond supply from India”.

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Financial Times: Sell Bitcoin Because The Market Is About To Become “Civilized”

On 31 October 2017, we discussed the announcement that the CME Group was responding to client interest and launching a Bitcoin Futures contract before the end of this year. CME stated that the contract would be cash settled based on the CME CF Bitcoin Reference rate, a once-a-day reference rate of the US dollar Bitcoin price at 4.00pm London time. In the run-up to the launch of the futures contract, the Financial Times has written a piece on the likely impact of futures trading on the Bitcoin price.

The title of the piece makes the FT’s view clear, “Prepare to bet against bitcoin as it becomes civilised”. We disagree with using the word “civilised” in this context (see below), but here is the FT’s take. 

In recent years, bitcoin has been the wild west of the financial world. Now, however, it is being civilised — a touch. In the coming weeks, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange plans to start listing bitcoin futures, with a centralised clearing mechanism. Cboe Global Markets may follow suit. That will enable investors to bet on the coin’s future value without actually holding it — just as investors can use the Chicago exchange to bet on hog prices, say, without ever handling a pig.

To its credit, the FT reflects the concerns from some CME participants that there is insufficient regulatory oversight and Bitcoin’s stratospheric vol could lead to significant losses for some traders.

Is this a good idea? Some of the CME’s members do not think so. This week Interactive Brokers, an important clearing firm in the exchange, took the extraordinary step of using a newspaper advertisement to ask for more regulatory oversight. It fears that bitcoin is potentially so volatile that these futures will create huge losses for traders, which might then undermine the health of the CME and hurt other brokers, given its part-mutualised structure. The CME — unsurprisingly — dismisses this as poppycock: it argues that any risks will be contained by rules that allow traders to charge more so as to generate fat margins (of about 30 per cent) and thus absorb losses, and by circuit breakers that would stop a trade in the event of wild price swings.

Our suspicion is that CME Group has seen the volume of Bitcoin trading and is determined to get its “cut”, whether or not some of its members take some big hits or not. It can deal with those issues if or when they occur. Anyway, the FT moves on to the more interesting subject of the impact on Bitcoin’s price. We should note that when the futures contract was announced the price surged more than $100 to a then all-time high of $645.

But while the regulatory debate bubbles on, there is a more immediate question facing investors: bitcoin prices. Until now, it has been an article of faith among bitcoin evangelists that if — or when — the currency became more “civilised”, this will boost the price. After all, the argument goes, assimilating bitcoin into the mainstream investment world should boost its appeal and demand, making it more valuable.

As the FT alludes to in the articles title, it expects the Bitcoin price to fall.

It is highly likely there will be an opposite effect. Until now, investors have not had an easy way to bet against bitcoin — the only “short” was to sell coins. But the CME futures contract will let investors place those negative bets. You do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to imagine that some bitcoin cynics will be doing just that.

To support its case, the FT cites the example of Japan launching equity derivatives in 1989, just before the bubble burst.

Think, for example, about Japan. Before the mid-1980s, its stock market seemed to exist on a planet of its own, subject to its own valuation rules. But when Japanese equity derivative contracts were launched, and then integrated within the wider global market system as a result of financial reform, that sense of “otherness” broke down. The change in how Japan was seen through a comparative investment lens was not the only reason for the 1990 Nikkei crash, but it contributed.

We have a slight problem with using this as an analogy for Bitcoin. Firstly, an ultra-hawkish BOJ-governor was nominated in mid-1989 who announced his intention to crackdown on house price inflation and the shadow banking system which was facilitating much of the leverage. Secondly, all bubbles burst and Japan’s was extreme. For example, depending on whether you use the highest per square metre property deal in the Ginza district, or one in the Chiyoda district, the land underneath the Imperial Palace was valued between $852 billion and $5.1 trillion at the time. Futures trading, we would suggest, played a tiny role.

The FT cites the launch of trading in the ABX Index prior to the sub-prime crisis, as another example.

So too with US mortgages. Until 2005 or so, outsiders could not easily assess or price the risks of America’s subprime mortgages: mortgage-backed bond prices were opaque, and the only way to short the market was to sell bonds. But when mortgage derivatives, such as the ABX index, were launched, it suddenly became easy to make negative bets. Then, the ABX index was published in newspapers, such as the Financial Times, in 2007, creating a visible barometer of sentiment. That helped a sense of panic to feed on itself after 2008.

Once again, we would suggest the FT is confusing the impact of derivatives with an inevitable reversion of market price of an asset in a bubble as expectations regarding the outlook changed. In the case of sub-prime, housing prices in the US had never fallen, then they did, the AAA-ratings of the bonds were manifestly incorrect and the dramatically overpriced sub-prime bonds were pledged as collateral in all manner of other risky, leveraged trades.

From our perspective, the impact of the futures launch is difficult to gauge as it depends on the interaction of two opposing forces.

Firstly, as cryptocurrencies gradually become accepted as an asset class, more institutional money is likely to enter the sector and holding long futures positions is one way to do it.

 

Secondly, as the article notes, Bitcoin futures will be settled in cash, which means there is potential for the volume of futures trading to vastly outweigh the buying and selling of “actual” Bitcoins. If this occurs, then the “tail can wag the dog” as price discovery is dominated by futures trading. This permits all manner of market abuse via naked short selling by investors, major banks and any “official” players who deem it necessary to manipulate the Bitcoin price.

For this reason, we don’t agree that adding a futures contract will necessarily “civilise” Bitcoin, indeed, it might have the opposite effect.

The second scenario precisely describes the state of the “gold” market today. According to the Reserve Bank of India’s estimate, the ratio of “paper gold” trading to physical gold trading is 92:1, meaning that the price of gold on the screens has almost nothing to do with the buying and selling of physical gold. This makes the gold market and, therefore, the gold price something of a mockery. As Zero Hedge has highlighted time after time, the gold price has frequently been subject to waterfall declines, as huge volumes of gold futures are dumped on the market with no regard for price. See "Gold Slammed After Someone Pukes $4bn Notional In Gold Futures" on 10 November 2017. Perhaps the FT journalist, Gillian Tett, could write an article on gold, instead of Bitcoin, explaining how the price of the former – a widely viewed indicator of financial risk – is being suppressed by derivative trading. Indeed, Tett was present at a private dinner in Scott’s of Mayfair several years ago when the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee gave a presentation on exactly the same process which she expects to lower the Bitcoin price.

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“Beyond Resistance” – Soros, Pelosi Headline Left’s Biggest Dark Money Conference

Authored by Brent Scher and Joe Schoffstall via FreeBeacon.com,

A secretive three-day conference where big money liberal donors are plotting the next steps of the "resistance" will be headlined by Friday speeches by billionaire George Soros and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, according to internal documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Democracy Alliance, a donor club of deep-pocketed liberal donors that each pledge to direct hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to approved left-wing groups, descended on California's posh La Costa Resort on Wednesday morning for its fall donor summit. The group continued its tradition of secrecy, promising all members and guests of the summit their participation would "remain confidential."

The first page of the conference agenda, which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon and can be viewed in its entirety below, lays out "participation guidelines," explaining that the Democracy Alliance is a "safe place" for donors and activists to meet.

Guests are instructed not to share members' names with the press and not to post to any social media sites, to contact Democracy Alliance if "the media or a blogger" contacts them, and to "refrain from leaving sensitive materials out where others may find them."

This latter directive was ignored.

The agenda for the meeting, titled "Beyond #Resistance: Reclaiming our Progressive Future," lays out three full days of events culminating in a Friday night dinner headlined by Pelosi.

A few hours earlier guests can attend "A Talk with George Soros," who will be introduced with a "special videotaped message" by Democratic senator Kamala Harris (Calif.).

All of the events are scheduled to take place at the La Costa Resort, which features 17 tennis courts of both clay and hard surfaces including one with 1,000 seats for spectators, 36 holes of golf on the Legends Course and the Champions Course, an array of pools including three hot tubs that overlook said golf courses, a spa building, and the Deepak Chopra Center, where guests can do yoga or receive mind-body medical consultations.

Pelosi and Harris are not the only two politicians to have a presence at the swanky conference – Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (D.) held a Thursday event on his reelection efforts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) will speak on Friday about "Russian interference in the 2016 election," and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D., Minn.), who chairs the DCCC, will attend a "festive brunch" on Saturday morning. Also making a "special appearance" on Friday will be Virginia's governor-elect Ralph Northam.

The agenda also lists "special guests" at the conference, some more famous than others. Attendees showcased in the agenda range from failed California politician Sandra Fluke to liberal CNN contributor Van Jones to Center for American Progress CEO Neera Tanden.

Jones was headlining a Thursday dinner on "going outside the bubble" and learning from Trump voters.

Not all events and prominent guests are listed in the conference agenda.

Not listed, for example, was a Thursday night happy hour hosted by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, who was spotted in attendance.

Also not listed as a special guest at the conference was David Brock, who checked in early Wednesday afternoon and has made himself highly visible at La Costa – slowly strolling around the sprawling property and staying up at the hotel bar till past midnight.

Brock is not a "partner" of Democracy Alliance – in fact, he has worked to create his own liberal donor network – but groups he controls, such as Media Matters for America, are among the many groups Democracy Alliance directs funding to.

Not listed in the agenda or spotted at the resort has been billionaire Tom Steyer, one of Democracy Alliance's most prominent members in the past. Pelosi publicly reprimanded Steyer earlier this month for running a $10 million ad calling for President Trump's impeachment.

Also not listed in the Democracy Alliance program was a meeting held by Patriotic Millionaires, who gave a Thursday morning briefing on the "tax fight" and "what is at stake." The briefing was delivered by Larry Mishel of Americans for Tax Fairness, Thea Lee of Economic Policy Institute, and Jacob Leibenluft, a member of the Obama administration's National Economic Council who is now with the Centeron Budget and Policy Priorities.

Not all meetings at the conference are open to all guests. Some meetings are "by invitation only," "for prospective partners only," or for "partners only."

Right before Pelosi's speech, for example, will be a "Partners only" forum dedicated to "committing resources."

The Democracy Alliance has never made its commitment decisions available to the public.

Democracy Alliance president Gara LaMarche wrote in a letter to attendees included in the agenda that President Trump's November victory was "the most cataclysmic election of modern history."

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