Monday 23 October 2017

Macro and Credit - Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

"If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf." - Nikita Khrushchev

While still being mesmerized by the "goldilocks" environment for credit thanks to low interest rates volatility, in conjunction with new records being broken in the equities sphere, when thinking about what our title analogy should be, we reminded ourselves of the popular song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" written by Frank Churchill originally featured in the 1933 Disney cartoon Three Little Pigs. It was sung by Fiddler Pig and Fifer Pig as they arrogantly believe their houses of straw and twigs would protect them from the Big Bad Wolf. With the continuation of the beta game played by the "yield hogs", obviously the Big Bad Wolf would be a sudden burst of inflation, which would no doubt take down their "credit" houses of straw and twigs. This would clearly change the central banking narrative and put an end to the "goldilocks" environment we are seeing. We do not think we are there yet, but as we pointed out in our recent musings, for a "bear market" to materialize, you would indeed need a return of the Big Bad Wolf aka "inflation". In the Disney cartoon, an angry Practical pig did warn his two brothers though:
"You can play and laugh and fiddle. Don't think you can make me sore. I'll be safe and you'll be sorry when the Wolf comes through your door!"
Overall, we'd rather be seen as "Practical yield pigs" than "perma bears". As such we do think that a surprised return of inflation could indeed be a catalyst for a "repricing" of the bond "bubble". 

In this week's conversation, we would like to look at if indeed it's not the Fed which is responsible for its lackluster record in reaching its 2% inflation target. In terms of asset prices "inflation", one could argue that the Fed's record is "untarnished". 

  • Macro - Low inflation? Blame the Fed 
  • Credit - Credit cycles die because too much debt has been raised
  • Final chart - Senior officer loan survey leads default rates
  • Macro - Low inflation? Blame the Fed 
In our most recent musing, we mentioned that inflation in the US was suffering from an autocorrelation problem. What we have long posited is that while wanting to induce inflation, QE induces deflation and that's exactly what the Fed has been doing. This is what we discussed in March 2015 in our conversation "The China Syndrome". At the time, we quoted CITI's Matt King's 27th of February note entitled "Is QE Deflationary":
"It’s that linkage between investment (or the lack of it) and all the stimulus which we find so disturbing. If the first $5tn of global QE, which saw corporate bond yields in both $ and € fall to all-time lows, didn’t prompt a wave of investment, what do we think a sixth trillion is going to do?
Another client put it more strongly still. “By lowering the cost of borrowing, QE has lowered the risk of default. This has led to overcapacity (see highly leveraged shale companies). Overcapacity leads to deflation. With QE, are central banks manufacturing what they are trying to defeat?”
Clearly this is not what’s supposed to happen. QE, and stimulus generally, is supposed to create new demand, improving capacity utilization, not reducing it. But as we pointed out in our liquidity wars conference call this week, it feels ever moreas though central bank easing is just shifting demand from one place to another, not augmenting it.
The same goes for the drop in oil prices. In principle, this ought to be hugely stimulative, at least for net oil consumers. And the argument that it stems solely from the surge in US supply, not from any dearth of global demand, seems persuasive as far as it goes.
But in practice, the wave of capex cuts and associated job losses in anything even vaguely energy-related feels much more immediate than the promise of future job gains following higher consumption. The drop in oil prices, while abrupt, in fact follows a three-year decline in commodity prices more broadly. It’s not just oil where we seem to have built up excess capacity: it’s the entire commodities complex." - source CITI
Also, stronger USD leads to higher deflationary risk leading to lower long-term bond yields. Even though exports are only 13% of the US economy, remember that 40% of S&P 500’s earnings now come from outside the US. But when it comes to "anchoring" inflation expectations and the threat of the Big Bad Wolf, it seems that the Fed has failed as pointed out by BNP Paribas in their note from the 12th of October entitled "US: Blame the Fed for low US inflation":
  • Too hawkish rhetoric too early and too little attention to inflation expectations are the main reasons why core inflation is nearer to 1% than 2%. It’s the Fed’s fault.
  • The taper tantrum lowered inflation expectations a lot, and the 2015 and 2016 rate hikes both came when data were signalling a rise was inappropriate.
  • Inflation expectations are not at a level that is consistent with hitting 2% inflation – we reckon break-evens would need to be 2.5% to be consistent with that; we’re well short.
  • The Fed is a poor inflation forecaster and its reaction function is foggy, hence the need to heavily flag its moves. Bond rallies after rate hikes question the wisdom of the hikes.
Over-inflation of asset prices but too low inflation
Fed policy has achieved full employment – in fact, it has gone a bit beyond it. But after more than eleven years since its first cut in 2007, core inflation is 1.3%; at the same time it has overinflated asset prices. The Fed has not managed this alone – the “everything bubble” owes much to fellow central bankers who have helped pump up the liquidity that inflated financial assets.
What flattened the Phillips curve? The Fed.
However, we believe it is the Fed’s fault that US inflation is too low. Despite only four hikes in just under two years the Fed has subdued inflation expectations and therefore inflation. The Fed’s rhetoric has constantly been about raising rates, from way too early in the cycle and its rate hikes have too often been path dependent rather than state dependent.
Not enough attention given to inflation
The FOMC has too often ignored inflation when hiking. When Bernanke started the taper tantrum, core PCE inflation had descended from 2% in early 2012 to 1.4% – no wonder the market took fright. In the six months preceding the first hike, core inflation averaged only 1.3%.
Too ready to talk about hikes too early
Before the taper tantrum, the Fed had often signalled a desire to raise rates. By December 2012, it was saying that it would not hike until the unemployment rate was below 6.5%, well before full employment was reached. The same statement suggested an asymmetric inflation target: “The Committee also anticipates that inflation over the medium term likely will run at or below its 2 percent objective”.
The Fed has hurt inflation expectations
Inflation expectations are central to the inflationary process. The rate of increase of both wages and prices has decelerated this year– at least before hurricane effects gave them a boost. The Fed puts the inflation deceleration down to “idiosyncratic factors”. But the shocks have been so widespread and long-lasting that something else seems to be at play, especially when the deceleration also affected wages. Inflation expectations have generally declined since 2013 and we believe this has played a role in 2017’s disappointments. The end of 2013 is when the Fed started its tapering process. We don’t see this as a coincidence.
Fed driving expectations
Chart 1 shows the ASTIX measure of inflation expectations from the Philadelphia Fed.

Prior to the recession, real rate expectations and inflation expectations were positively correlated: as inflation expectations rose, so the Fed would tend to raise real rates. Since the crisis, spells of negative correlation have increased, suggesting that monetary policy is driving expectations, rather than being driven by them. We can see that QE1 and, especially, QE2 reduced real rate expectations and raised inflation expectations. Chart 2 shows this happened in markets too.

Taper tantrum drove down price expectations
The taper tantrum accompanied a big fall in inflation expectations and a rise in the expected real rate (Charts 1 and 2). We would be very critical of the Fed ignoring the much tighter monetary conditions caused by the taper tantrum when deciding to taper later that year. Not for the last time, once the Fed has been set on a course in this cycle, it has put its data blinkers on.
Fed failed to grasp import of taper tantrum
Since everyone knew that rate hikes could not start until tapering had finished, the act of tapering had a strong signalling effect. That was one of the reasons for the 2013 taper tantrum, sparked by two Ben Bernanke speeches in May and June, when unemployment was still 7½% or three points above full employment. The one-year one year (1y1y) forward rate rose almost immediately – from 0.25% to 0.50%. Bernanke had signalled that rate hikes were coming.
Fed paid too little heed to 2015 financial conditions
The reaction to Bernanke’s speeches suggests the market saw a move as premature. Before QE ended, the 1y1y had advanced, topping 1%. Rate policy had been tightened even though the policy rate was unchanged. Policy also tightened through other dimensions; the dollar appreciated and by December 2014 was up 9.2% y/y on the broad index. As rate hike expectations mounted and expectations of ECB QE built, by December 2015 there had been a further rise of 10.3%. This had a major effect on growth, inflation dynamics, including through growth, commodity prices and on expectations, we would argue. We don’t think the Fed paid enough attention to financial conditions, interpreting monetary policy too narrowly as the short rate, otherwise the December 2015 hike might not have happened.
First hike too date driven – hence no more for a year
The run-up to the first hike in December 2015 hardly suggested monetary conditions needed tightening. GDP growth in Q4 was only 0.5% aar; the ISM was sub-50 and core inflation was 1.3%. A data-dependent Fed probably would not have hiked in December, but the Fed appeared cornered by credibility concerns and delivered the first hike. Almost immediately, FOMC rhetoric switched and became much more data dependent, with the Fed backing off its hiking stance. By August, 2016 the 1y1y had declined by about 70bp from the December 2015 high. Bond yields rallied, with expected real rates falling and break-evens rising.
Fed had to press market to price in Dec 2016 hike
Things changed in mid-2016, with the ISM rallying. The Fed increasingly talked up the possibility of hikes, with Dudley saying in August that a September hike was possible. That didn’t happen, but when Dudley said on 19 October that he expected a 2016 hike, the market’s probability of a December hike rose to 75% on 26 October versus 47% on 26 September.
Hikes caused inflation expectations to fall further
The result was a sharp rise in bond yields, again largely driven by the expected real yield. The delivery of the December 2016 hike, as with the first hike, was a trigger for real rates to start to decline, after an abbreviated period. By spring, break-evens followed. The March and June 2017 rate hikes each saw bond yields and break-evens decline, along with ASTIX inflation expectations, which would suggest the market judged these hikes unnecessary.
 Difficult to see what can stop a December 2017 hike
The FOMC on 20 September gave a clear signal of a desire to hike in December. The September drop in the unemployment rate and the 0.5% m/m rise in average hourly earnings will probably have reinforced that. Despite core inflation at only 1.3% and inflation expectations seemingly too low to hit the 2% target for core PCE, it looks increasingly likely that the Fed will hike in December, short of another downward surprise to inflation.
Too late to avoid a policy mistake?
We doubt the wisdom of this and have sympathy for St. Louis Fed President James Bullard’s view that we are heading for a policy mistake. We also see support for Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari’s point that the reason the Fed is undershooting its targets is the Fed itself. It has tightened too early and has dampened inflation expectations. This now leaves it in a quandary, we believe. To lift inflation to target, it will have to keep rates soft and risk even further asset overvaluation, while taking unemployment to too low levels risks a bust and a rise in unemployment that delivers recession and ends with the economy close to deflation. However, if the Fed were to raise rates with inflation so low, it would run the risk of further suppressing inflation expectations. This is a bind that has been caused by too many mistakes in the past and it appears difficult to thread a satisfactory way through." - source BNP Paribas
What the Fed has effectively been doing is playing the hand of aging populations by creating inflation in asset prices and in particular bond prices. Aging savers buy future goods (securities) rather than present goods. As we wrote previously, the issue we are seeing in both Japan and the rest of the world is that the older generations is averse to inflation eating away their assets while the young generations are more comfortable with relatively high wages and the resulting inflation. Unfortunately rentiers seek and prefer deflation. They prefer conservative government policies of balanced budgets and deflationary conditions and so far the money has been flowing downhill where all the fun is namely the bond market and particularly beta (the carry game) which can be illustrated by the outperformance in the CCC bucket in High Yield so far this year but also in terms of cumulative flows in bond mutual funds and ETFs as displayed in the below chart from Deutsche Bank from their Global Market Strategy note from the 20th of October untitled "Jumping equilibrium?":

- source Deutsche Bank

But is the game turning? Should we switch camp from the "deflationista" towards the "inflationista" camp? We wonder.

Back in our October 2012 conversation "QE - To infinity...and beyond" we quoted Richard Koo, chief economist at the Nomura Research Institute regarding the challenges of moving from QE to QT:
"Perceived limits on fiscal policy increase pressure on monetary policy
In spite of these experiences, the baseless view that fiscal policy has reached its limits has come to dominate the debate in many countries, including Japan. That, in turn, has placed a great deal of pressure on central banks and led them to inject a sea of liquidity into the market when there is no reason why more liquidity should have any effect. This liquidity will create no problems as long as there is no private demand for loans, since the funds essentially sit in the financial system. The problems come when private demand for loans returns to normal levels and those funds resume circulating. 
Central banks must tighten aggressively when loan demand picks up 
As soon as private loan demand recovers the central bank will have to mop up the excess liquidity, which is currently running at two to three times the normal level. Otherwise prices could double or triple. But to do so the central bank must sell the bonds it bought, putting upward pressure on interest rates just when the private sector is ready to borrow money again. The Fed, for example, will have to sell $1.4trn in bonds when conditions in the private sector return to normal, at a time when the economy is recovering and businesses and households are becoming sensitive to interest rates. And if the market decides that the central bank is not mopping up excess liquidity fast enough, that alone could lift private inflation expectations and send bond yields sharply higher. In short, the central bank finds itself in a difficult position whether it sells the securities or not. Either way a major ordeal awaits both the central bank and the bond market. Once this point is reached, the central bank will probably attempt to reduce the “real value” of liquidity in the market by sharply raising the statutory reserve ratio for commercial banks, a tactic frequently employed by the People’s Bank of China. But all these measures will have significant negative implications for the economic recovery. While QE will do little damage at a time when private loan demand is weak or nonexistent, like today, it requires the central bank to engage in aggressive tightening just when the private sector is beginning to recover." - source Nomura - Richard Koo.
Given China's most recent uptick in its PPI to 6.9%, we are indeed wondering if this is not a sign that we should change allegiance slightly towards the "inflationista" camp and start fearing somewhat the possibility of the return of the Big Bad Wolf aka inflation. We will be monitoring closely this latest China "inflation impulse". China's rising costs via exports could boosts inflation expectations in the US. These higher inflation expectations in the US would mean a steeper yield curve with a rise in long-duration yields ovcrall and it would lead to higher rates volatility down the line. A bear market needs a wolf and this wolf would materialize in a return of inflation we think.

Obviously the return of the Big Bad Wolf aka inflation would trigger a return of bond volatility. On this subject we read with great interest Christopher R. Cole, CFA from Artemis Capital Management latest note entitled "Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk - Reflexivity in the Shadows of Black Monday 1987". It was very interesting in Christopher Cole's must read note to see his reference to the Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake consuming its own body. We have used a similar reference as a title analogy recently in our September musings also called "Ouroboros". For us the Ouroboros represents the eternal return or cyclicality especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself like credit cycles. For Christopher Cole at Artemis the Ouroboros represents the dangerous feedback low between ultra-low interest rates, debt expansion, asset volatility, and financial engineering that allocates risk based on volatility. What is of interest to us, when it comes to the Big Bad Wolf and the Ouroboros mythical snake are the points made by Christopher Cole from Artemis relating to volatility always coming from debt markets:
"The death of the snake...
Volatility fires almost begin in the debt markets. Let's start with what volatility really is. Volatility is the brother of credit... and volatility regime shifts are driven by the credit cycle.

Volatility is derived from an option on the shareholder equity, but equity itself can be thought as a perpetual option on the future success of a company. When times are good and credit is easy, a company can rely on the extension of cheap debt to support its operations. Cheap credit makes the value of equity less volatile, hence a tightening of credit conditions will lead to higher equity volatility. When credit is easily available and rates are low, volatility remains suppressed, but as credit contracts, volatility rises.

In the short term we do not see the credit stress required for a sustained expansion of volatility, but this can change very quickly. Storm clouds are gathering around 2018-2020, as rising interest rates, rich valuations, and corporate debt roll-overs all converge as potential triggers for higher stress and volatility. The IMF warned that 22% of US corporations are at risk of default if interest rates rise. Median net debt across the S&P500 firms is close to a historic high at over 1.5x earnings, and interest coverage ratios have fallen sharply. Between 2018-2019 an estimated $134 billion of high yield debt must be rolled-over, presenting a catalyst for higher volatility in the form of credit stress.
Reflexivity in the Shadow of Black Monday 1987
Thirty years ago, to the day, financial markets, around the world crashed with volatility never seen before or equaled again in history. On October 19th, 1987 the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than -22%, doubling the worst day from the 1929 crash. $500 billion in market share vaporized overnight.

Entire brokerage firms went bankrupt on margin calls as liquidity vanished. It was not a matter of prices falling, there were no prices. You couldn't exit a position. Trading desks refused to pick up the phone. Black Monday appeared to come out of nowhere as it occurred in the middle of a multi-year bull-market. There was no rational reason for the crash. In retrospect, financial historians blame portfolio insurance, ignoring the role of interest rates, inflation, and the Federal Reserve. The demon of that day still haunts markets, and 30 years later the crash is still not well understood. Black Monday 1987 was the first post-modern hyper crash driven by machine feedback loops, but it all started in a very traditional way.
Be careful what you wish for... Today every central bank in the world is trying to engineer inflation, but inflation was the hidden source of the 1987 financial crash. At the start of 1987 inflation was at 1.5%, which is lower than it is today! From 1985 and 1986 the Federal Reserve cut interest rates over 300 basis points to off-set a slowdown in growth. That didn't last for long. Between January and October 1987 inflation violently rose 300 basis points. Nominal rates jumped even higher, as the 10-year US treasury rose 325 basis points from 6.98% in January 1987 to 10.23% by October 1987.

The Fed tried to keep pace by raising rates throughout the year but it was not fast enough. The quick increase in inflation was blamed on the weak dollar, falling current account balance, and rising US debt-to-GDP levels. None of this hurt equity markets, as the stock market rose +37% through August 25th, 1987. Then the wheels fell off." - source Christopher R. Cole, CFA - Artemis Capital - "Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk - Reflexivity in the Shadows of Black Monday 1987"
As pointed out by Christopher Cole in his must read note, the rise of the Big Bad Wolf aka inflation was what started a liquidity fire in credit that spread to equities before the 1987 volatility explosion described. The only issue is once the "Inflation Genie" is "Out of the Bottle" as warned by Fed's Bullard in 2012, it is hard to get it back under control:
“There’s some risk that you lock in this policy for too long a period,” he stated.  ”Once inflation gets out of control, it takes a long, long time to fix it”
Also, in addition to Christopher Cole's points, credit investors have a very weak predictive power on future default rates. Credit investors are collectively subject to an extrapolation bias. When default rates are high, credit investors behave as if default rates were going to stay high for the next 5-10 years. They liquidate their portfolios in panic (or because they are forced to do so). This snowball effect leads to spread levels that have no economic rationale. Inversely, when default rates are low, credit investors believe that stability is the norm, and start piling up on leverage, inventing new instruments to do so (CLOs, CDOs, CPDOs etc.). This recklessness leads to malinvestment, and sows the seeds of the next credit crisis.  Even for a rolling investor (whose returns are also driven by mark-to-market spread moves), initial spreads explain nearly half of 5yr forward returns, that simple as pointed out by our good friend Paul Buigues:
"For us, credit is spread, not yield. A high-yield bond is a bet on the issuer’s creditworthiness combined with a bet on risk-free interest rates. Consequently, people who rely mostly on the low yield argument to justify their bearishness on high yield bonds should concentrate their hostility against Treasuries."
Or in Europe, given the levels reached on some European Sovereign bonds, they should concentrate their hostility against them, given the ECB is the most important buyer in town, for now...

As we have repeatedly pointed out, the money is flowing "uphill" where all the "fun" is namely the bond market, not "downhill" to the "real economy". As we pointed out in our conversation "Thermidor" in August 2016, this of course is leading to a "pre-revolutionary" mindset setting in, and the rise of "populism" with the deafening sound of "helicopter money" and fiscal profligacy as the "elites" and their central bankers are starting in earnest to "panic" somewhat. Could the rotation from "deflation" to "inflation" trigger indeed a surge in commodities? We wonder... After all the recent surge in the Chinese PPI could indeed be somewhat pointing towards some inflation surprises down the line.

If as indicated by Christopher Cole, volatility is the brother of credit, then obviously assessing the longevity of the credit cycle is paramount. We do agree with Christopher that, for the time being, we do not see the credit stress required for a sustained expansion of volatility. It's only when the Big Bad Wolf will rear its ugly face that we will change our "Practical yield pigs" stance. But if indeed the credit cycle matters from an Ouroboros perspective, then obviously one has to wonder how the death of the credit snake comes about as per our next point below.

  • Credit - Credit cycles die because too much debt has been raised
When it comes to credit and in particular the credit cycle, the growth of private credit matters a lot. If indeed there are signs that the US consumer is getting "maxed out", then there is a chance the credit cycle will turn in earnest, because of too much debt being raised as well for the US consumer. But for now financial conditions are pretty loose. For the credit music to stop, a return of the Big Bad Wolf aka inflation would end the rally still going strong towards eleven in true Spinal Tap fashion. 

On the issue of how the credit cycle could end, we read with interest Bank of America Merrill Lynch's take from their High Yield Strategy note from the 13th of October entitled "The Evolution of the Credit Cycle":
"How it ends?
Our observations and model estimates so far have painted a relatively benign picture, suggesting that defaults could remain low for some time. Having adopted this as the base case, we now turn to discussion of factors that could potentially derail it and prove us wrong.
All cycles before this one have ended with a surprise event, a “black swan” of sorts, which, by definition, was unexpected by the consensus and meaningful in its impact. This one is probably not going to be unique in this respect. And while forecasting the exact event is a futile exercise, we can still think about the general set of circumstances that could potentially turn this credit cycle.
Broadly speaking we envision three kinds of developments that could play such a role:
1. Inflation returns. If low inflation and loose central bank policies have played a critical role in helping the markets get to this stage, it would be natural to expect them to play a certain role in reversing this move. At any given level of inflation, major central banks have proved time and again that they are more dovish than consensus expects them to be, and there are few signs to suggest that their behavior is about to change. With that it seems that only a genuine inflation surprise would wake them up and cause the kind of correlated policy tightening that few people currently expect to take place. So far, decent economic growth numbers in the US, Europe, and Asia have failed to spark any measurable inflation pressures. However, we are watching certain economic indicators closely, such as PMIs or Korean and Japanese exports (all at cyclical highs), which could prove to be early signs of an overheating. In the long run, we believe inflation will remain secularly squeezed by technology, but a temporary rise cannot be ruled out.
2. Distress in isolated sectors spreads. We have seen an example of this most recently in energy and commodities, where a 25% default wave nearly pushed the broad HY market into a full-blown default cycle. At the moment, there are few reasons to expect something like that to play out in the next year, with all known problematic segments, such as retail, wireline telecoms, and selected healthcare providers, representing tiny shares of the market (cumulative distress ratio is under 5% today). Again, we see few immediate reasons to believe that these known problems in narrow industries would spread elsewhere, but it’s usually helpful to think about broader vulnerabilities if things develop in some unexpected fashion. To that end, if we expanded the range of problematic sectors to broad retail, healthcare, wireline telecoms, and also brought energy/mining back into the fold, their combined size grows to 30% of the total HY market. An additional layer of risk is being created by extreme concentration of large IG issuers, where the top ten non-financial capital structures today represent 50% of the total size of the HY market, the second-highest on record except for 2002 (Figure 7).

A fallen angel of that magnitude would create a meaningful disruption on transition.
3. Geopolitics cause a trade contraction. The long list of unresolved global conflicts here is well known and does not require a recital here. Suffice to say that a flare up in any one of them could easily awaken the markets from their QE-induced hypnosis. And even outside the worst-case scenarios of an open military engagement, things could develop in a way such that the global economy suffers a shock. Consider the fact that S Korea is the single-largest source of Chinese imports, followed by the US and Japan. The same trio also appears on the other side of this trade superhighway, only as the largest destinations of Chinese exports. It is probably fair to say that some major global supply chains depend critically on these lanes staying wide open and unencumbered. One could draw a dotted line between where we are and a sharp contraction in this epicenter of global trade even if the world avoids the worst-case scenario on the Korean peninsula." - source Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Indeed, credit should be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf aka inflation. This would clearly generate renewed volatility in the rates space and obviously a reaction in the credit space. It seems for now the market doesn't seem much concerned by an inflation surprise, while the carry and beta game continue to be played significantly thanks to low volatility. We are part of the crowd that thinks that any small upside surprises in inflation could potentially affect markets materially. Such a surprise would trigger a surge in volatility. So who is afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? We are.

For our final chart, when it comes to predicting a move in the credit cycle and a surge in default rates as we pointed out in the past, you need to track the quarterly Fed's Senior Loan Officer Opinion Surveys (SLOOs).

  • Final chart - Senior officer loan survey leads default rates

The most predictive variable for default rates remains credit availability. The SLOOS report is that it does a much better job of estimating defaults when they are being driven by a systemic factor, such as a turn in business cycle or an all-encompassing macro event. Leveraged players and Carry traders do love low risk-free interest rates, but they do love even more low interest rate volatility. Our final chart comes from Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collateral Thinking note from the 20th of October and entitled "Deconstructing the default rate". It displays that SLOOs leads default rate in general:
"Being in one of the longest running credit cycles in history, the question we get asked most frequently is: when will we get the next default cycle? While we believe we are in the ninth inning, there is also evidence suggesting that the cycle has some more room to run in terms of accumulation of debt and generation of profits. As such we don’t think that default rates have quite bottomed out yet and believe next year to be characterized by even fewer default losses than this year. Our belief rests on both the macro and micro indicators that we use to predict the direction of default rates in Loans as well as HY.
Specifically for the loan universe, which we define as the loans in the LCD index, we gauge the state of the macro environment through the senior loan officer survey. This survey determines the ease with which medium to large sized companies (annual revenue&$50mn) are able get bilateral loans from banks, and thus is a good broad level indicator of on-ground credit conditions. On a micro level, we capture the change in the credit risk of the Loan universe through migration rates. A combination of these two factors is able to explain almost all of the variation in default rates since 2009 with about a 12 month lag. Today, both those factors are largely supportive of loans- the survey shows financial conditions have been easing for two quarters in a row (Chart 3), while credit migration rates have not materially deteriorated to flash warning signs. We think this firmly sets the stage for a lower default rate in 2018." - source Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Of course, should the Big Bad Wolf rear its ugly face again, then obviously, all credit bets for high yield would be off with the return of heightened volatility, the dear brother of credit as pointed at by Christopher Cole from Artemis Capital. For now Fiddler Pig and Fifer Pig continue to arrogantly sing while the volume is pumping up towards 11 in true Spinal Tap fashion but we ramble again it seems...

"It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be." -  Virgil
Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Not sure why the narrative is that there is "no inflation". Look at housing. Look at healthcare. Look at food. Inflation there, in sectors that hit the consumer every single week/month, is astronomical. It's just that the "official" measurements being used are not accurate - but are used for a reason. Because without high asset prices, everything comes down. Hard. Any read of inflation that's actually connected to reality is ignored.


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