Friday 21 June 2019

Macro and Credit - Klondike

"Having patience is one of the hardest things about being human. We want to do it now, and we don't want to wait. Sometimes we miss out on our blessing when we rush things and do it on our own time." -  Deontay Wilder
Looking at the latest FOMC decision, leading to further compression of US yields in conjunction with rising negative yielding bonds to the tune of $12.3 trillion, making credit and high beta risky assets TINA (There Is No Alternative) again, when it came to selecting our title analogy, we decided to continue with the theme of games and playing cards this time around. Klondike (North America) or Canfield (traditional) is a patience game (solitaire card game). In the U.S. and Canada, Klondike is the best-known solitaire card game, to the point that the term "solitaire", in the absence of additional qualifiers, typically refers to Klondike. Elsewhere the game is known as American Patience. 

The game rose to fame in the late 19th century, being named "Klondike" after the Canadian region where a gold rush happened. With the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) holding interest rates steady on Wednesday while opening the door to a cut by dropping its commitment to being "patient" in its policy statement, in similar fashion to the name of the card game of Klondike also known as "patience", the Fed conceded to more accommodation to come in July in the form of a rate cut. No wonder it led in similar fashion to a "Klondike" leading yet to another "gold rush" it seems as anticipated somewhat in our previous musing. What we find of interest in the game of "Klondike" played by the Fed is that from a probability perspective, about 79% of the games are theoretically winnable, but in practice, human players do not win 79% of games played, due to wrong moves that cause the game to become unwinnable. In addition to this probabilistic feature, some games are "unplayable" in which no cards can be moved to the foundations even at the start of the game; these occur in only 0.25% (1 in 400) of hands dealt. 

Also, there is a modified version of the game called "Thoughtful Solitaire", in which the identity of all 52 cards is known. Because the only difference between the two games (Klondike and Thoughtful) is the knowledge of card location, all "Thoughtful" games with solutions will also have solutions in "Klondike". Similarly, all dead-ends in "Thoughtful" will be dead ends in "Klondike". However, the theoretical odds of winning a standard game of "non-Thoughtful Klondike" are currently not known exactly. The inability of theoreticians to precisely calculate these odds has been referred to by mathematician Persi Diaconis as "one of the embarrassments of applied probability but we ramble again...

In this week's conversation, we would like to look at what the latest Fed decision entails as we think that we are on the cusp of a final melt-up which could be given an additional boost from some cease-fire agreement between China and the United States when it comes to the lingering trade war.

  • Macro and Credit - Is the Fed ready for "easing" after being "easy"?
  • Final charts - Fed "easing" should undermine the US dollar.

  • Macro and Credit - Is the Fed ready for "easing" after being "easy"?
Given the global "dovishness" now being actively espoused globally and with the Fed conceding to what the financial markets want, we view a continuation of the "Japanification" playing out, meaning that credit spreads will continue to perform and compress, and the corporate debt bubble to inflate in this Chinese year of the pig. The appetite for yield hungry investors will continue to push even more government bonds yields to absurd level and even more European corporate yields into negative territory. 

From an allocation perspective, as we pointed out before, where oil price goes, so does US High Yield, clearly since the beginning of the year US Investment Grade has outperformed US High Yield, respectively up 10% and 9%. Our defensive stance favoring quality (Investment Grade) over quantity (US High Yield has been vindicated. As well our preference for the long-end of the US yield curve is paying decently with long-term US Treasuries ($TLT) up by 11%. Year to date the ETF ZROZ we follow is up by a decent 14.4%. Gold is rising again in a very much "Klondike" way with gold miners racing ahead thanks to the return of the "D" word of "Deflation" and "D" for "Dovishness".

As we highlighted in our most recent musing, weak dollar policy is a natural extension of protectionist policies. FX policy should not be ignored in trade policy. They go hand in hand as a reminder. The trajectory of real yields matter when it comes to gold:
"The ongoing trade war could turn into a currency war, further boosting investor appetite for gold hence our negative stance on the US dollar." - source Macronomics, June 2019
We also added:
"If big dollar cycles are dominated by flow as indicated by Deutsche Bank, then again, the dovish Fed has finally triggered a USD sell-off it seems with hedge funds selling from a long position. If flows are indeed turning against the USD, then a US dollar weakness could be sustained." - source Macronomics, June 2019
Given the latest tone down from the Fed with rate cut expectations in July, and a possible form of resolution between the United States and China with the upcoming G20, there is indeed a potential for an additional melt-up, and in this scenario, high beta would therefore start to outperform again strongly.

A weaker US dollar is as well highly beneficial to the Emerging Markets complex. Should you therefore "buy" the proverbial dip? Obviously credit continues to benefit from "Bondzilla" the NIRP monster close to $13 trillion. In that context yield hunt will resume its trajectory.

When it comes to the much discussed "leveraged loans" we continue to see the "great rotation" playing out from the feeble hands of retail, namely them leaving the asset class and investing into US High Yield. This is clearly indicated by part of S&P Global Market Intelligence:
"Outflows from mutual funds and ETFs that invest in U.S. leveraged loans totaled $686 million for the week ended June 12, according to Lipper weekly reporters. That's less severe than the $1.47 billion withdrawal a week ago, but marks the 30th straight net outflow from the investor segment, for a total of slightly more than $30 billion over that span.
Retail investors have beat a steady retreat from the floating rate asset class as prospects of a Fed rate hike have evaporated, and as expectations of rate hikes solidify.
The record for consecutive withdrawals from U.S. loan funds is 32 weeks, for a streak that ended March 2, 2016, though outflows during that time totaled only $17.6 billion, according to Lipper.
Mutual funds provided the bulk of the outflow over the past week, at $572 million, while loan ETFs saw a withdrawal of $114 million. The four-week average is now a net $781 million outflow. The change due to market conditions over the past week was positive $56 million.
Year to date, including the week ended Jan. 2, outflows from the segment now total $16.5 billion. Assets at U.S. loan funds stand at $78.6 billion, of which $8.2 billion are via ETFs, according to Lipper." - source S&P Market Intelligence

At the same time, the feeble retail investors crowd did put $602M into US High Yield funds, the second straight week of inflows. YTD: +$8.9B $HYG $JNK according to S&P Market Intelligence:

 - source S&P Market Intelligence

With the market now pricing in a 100% probability of a rate cut in July, from a "Klondike" perspective, we do think there is a potential for more melt-up in the high beta space.

So what's our current view on the US 10 year yield you might rightly ask?

As a reminder, when it comes to our contrarian stance in relation to our "long duration" exposure it is fairly simple to explain:
"Government bonds are always correlated to nominal GDP growth, regardless if you look at it using "old GDP data" or "new GDP data". So, if indeed GDP growth will continue to lag, then you should not expect yields to rise anytime soon making our US long bonds exposure still compelling regardless of what some sell-side pundits are telling you." - Macronomics, December 2015, The Ghost of Christmas Past
So if indeed US GDP growth is decelerating, then, obviously the US 10 year yield is right where it should be given FOMC change in real GDP for 2019 is around 2.1%. Case closed.

Giving the global dovishness from our "generous gamblers" aka our dear central bankers, when it comes to this game of Klondike and asset implications we read with interest UBS take from their Global Macro Strategy note from the 20th of June entitled "Fed, ECB Promise Insurance: Asset Implications":
"Rates: Lower long end real; front end sits oddly with financial conditions
The market has celebrated the readiness from the Fed to provide insurance and bull steepened the curve. Compared with the beginning easing cycles over the last 30 years, inflation is marginally lower today, but financial conditions are significantly looser (Figure 1).

Our Economic team's view is now for a 50bps cut in July, (64% priced), which may take some deterioration in financial conditions to be fully priced. Based on the current information, and with 76 bps already priced till year end, we would not be receiving the very front end here, and would rather position through long 5-year breakevens and receiving long-end real rates. The Fed Chair cited concerns over fall in 5y5y breakevens several times as a reason for the material shift lower in dots." - source UBS
 What is indeed striking to use as we mused in our previous conversation is that financial conditions, while tightening already in some parts are not as tight as in previous cycles as highlighted by UBS table above. This is what we had to say in our previous conversation:
"Taking it easy is not taking it to easing and as per our above discussion we think investors are a little bit ahead of themselves when it comes to the number of cuts expected and the pace. One nonfarm payroll bad number doesn't yet make a trend though the most recent data highlights disappointment and worries from the ongoing trade war." - source Macronomics, June 2019
Though we were steering towards a more cautious side, given flash U.S. Composite Output Index just came out 50.6 (50.9 in May), a 40-month low, we would not dare to "fight" the Fed and we'd rather probably switch slightly to "offense" from "defense". Credit wise, European Investment Grade remains unattractive with European yield at 0.55% (Barclays EuroAgg Corporate ISMA Yield). So all in all, we'd rather stick with US Investment Grade than European Investment Grade. In Europe we prefer European High Yield in that context. As far as US High Yield is concerned, just follow oil prices.

For the "perma bear" out there, it's the velocity of oil prices that matter on the way up as well as on the way down when it comes to "high beta". We still think that eventually the spark of a "crash" will be ignited by a sudden spike in inflation à la 2008. We are not there yet, and on that front, it could come from a "geopolitical exogenous" factor.

Clearly as highlighted by Société Générale in their 20th of June report "On Our Minds" entitled "The Fed loses patience and ready to act", the game of Klondike comes to mind:
"Summary: The Fed lost patience in June. Dropping this key word and announcing they will closely monitor incoming information strongly suggests rate cuts. Timing and magnitude are the questions. We see two cuts in 2019 matching a heavy weighting of the dots offered in the June Summary of Economic Projections.
Median held in 2019—but large mass of dots imply two rate cuts
The Fed announced they are monitoring information closely. They dropped their reference to patience. The news implies they are at willing to make insurance cuts to keep the expansion intact. The first cut likely at the next FOMC meeting in July.
FOMC revises up GDP and lowers the unemployment projections
The US growth outlook alone does not immediately justify rate cuts, but with inflation low and risks and uncertainty increasing, Fed officials appear willing to make one to two cuts.
Insurance cuts that the Fed foresees pulling back eventually
The Fed median does not fully grasp the number of Fed officials willing to cut by 50bps. Cuts are likely sooner than the median implies Yet hikes into 2021 imply the Fed will pull back these insurance cuts. The Fed does not yet appear back a full rate cut cycle.

Fed insurance cuts vs full rate-cut cycle
The Fed dot plot assumes one to two cuts and then rates are held steady and eventually hiked again. This would follow a pattern more akin to insurance cuts that achieve a soft landing.
Markets are priced for more. Eventually we view the US economic situation as requiring more. We now foresee the Fed following up with insurance cuts in 2019 and highlight July and September for the moves that reduce the fed funds rate by 25 bps each. The magnitude and timing remain sensitive to the G20 meetings and trade talks between the US and China. Additionally, incoming US data with strong US consumers and still solid employment influence timing.
We still see a need for more aggressive rate cuts eventually as sigs of US economic weakness are more pronounced. US manufacturing is currently soft, but that may be needed to reduce inventory overhang. US consumption and employment remain solid for now. Our preliminary call for June non-farm payrolls is for a 175k increase. We still have 3.6% unemployment rate, but that rate can still drop further due to the pace of hiring.
The FOMC revised up its GDP estimate for 2020! Further, the FOMC reduced their unemployment rate projections. These projections do not reflect major risks. Rather it is the low inflation rate along with risks that allow the Fed to make insurance cuts.

Low inflation – the Fed lowered their headline and core inflation readings for 2020, is a major driver in the Fed’s willingness to cut rates. Fed officials foresee uncertainty, global sluggishness and a stronger dollar as over-riding domestic labor markets in shaping the outlook on inflation." - source Société Générale.

Given in the game of Klondike the issue is that a wrong move cannot be known in advance whenever more than one move is possible, we remain agnostic about how aggressive the Fed will be as it has clearly shown us to be "data dependent". Is the recent weakness transitory and mostly due to the trade war narrative being extended into overtime? We wonder.

For our final chart, the big known unknown remains the trajectory of the US dollar. We continue to think though there is more weakness ahead.

  • Final charts - Fed "easing" should undermine the US dollar.
Our final chart below comes from Deutsche Bank FX Special Report from the 18th of June and entitled "A unique Beast". It displays the trajectory of the US dollar surrounding Fed easing cycles:
"The FX market. 
In the 3m after easing the dollar TWI tends to continue the pre-easing trend (up or down!) rather than automatically start weakening. In this cycle unique features include: i) low/negative rates elsewhere; and, ii) the unusual US rate-spread advantage across short and back-end yields. It will then take multiple Fed rate cuts to undermine the USD’s rate advantage, generating even more USD resilience than usual.
Fed easing will undermine the dollar's upside on a TWI basis, but the central bank will have to deliver more than the 50bps of cuts by Dec meeting to kick start EUR/ USD meaningfully higher.
Momentum trading has had a record of doing poorly in easing cycles.
Value currency investing does better especially a year after easing cycles begin.
This favors short base metals – long precious metals." - source Deutsche Bank
From a "Klondike" perspective and an additional "gold" rush, it remains to be seen how aggressive the Fed will be in July. While we do expect at least some short-term pull-back on gold prices, it really depends if the Fed decides to throw early in the kitchen sink and the trajectory of "real yields (Gibson's paradox) and obviously the G20 outcome surrounding the US-China tug of war. American patience is, it seems, the name of the game...

"Just be patient. Let the game come to you. Don't rush. Be quick, but don't hurry." - Earl Monroe
Stay tuned !

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