Couple of Announcements

1st Announcement

On the morning of Wednesday, May 10, I decided to check the Facebook notifications. Before I can check it, the first thing I see on the timeline is an article from Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that a friend shared a couple of minutes before. The article was titled “Sorry, Harvard and Yale, the Trading Whiz Kids Are at Baruch College.”

Baruch College, a city college that I attend, got mentioned on WSJ. Big deal. And it has to do with trading. Big deal.

Minutes after I finished reading the article that morning, the article started spreading around like a wildfire. It was the talk of the town.

The next day, I decided to stop by the trading floor at my college quickly to export important statistics to PDF. What I didn’t know was that CNBC was about to go live.

So I’m sitting on Bloomberg Terminal desk with a trader discussing the current events and S&P 500. We were in a deep conversation and CNBC decided to live stream a portion of our passionate conversation…on mute, unfortunately.

Khojinur Usmonov discussing the current events and S&P 500 Index with another trader
Source: CNBC, “Nation’s top trading club comes from New York public college

First I was interview by Bloomberg. Now, I was on CNBC live, but not interviewed. In other words, millions of people watching CNBC did not know my name. Say my name.

Interviewed By Bloomberg

I’m proud of Baruch College.

2nd Announcement

Read this thread:

As to blogging, I’m not 100% sure if I will be able to write articles. If I can, I plan to write it and publish it here on Out of WACC. If not, you won’t see new articles until the end of August/early September.

Legendary Investor Carl Icahn Was Right Next To Me And I Didn’t Even See Him!!! (Video)

As you may know, I met legendary investor Bill Ackman (Short Herbalife) in the first half of this year. He was taller and bulkier than I expected. Ackman speaks in a soft voice (to strangers of course) and has a firm handshake. My tiny hands were nothing compared to the strong hands of Mr. Bill Ackman.

Great meeting with Mr. Bill Ackman, Founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management
Great meeting with Mr. Bill Ackman, Founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management

In case you don’t know, Ackman is one of the world’s most famous hedge fund managers and activist investors. Pershing Square Capital Management net return was 40.4% in 2014, the highest among its peers. Since inception in 2004, Pershing Square posted net gains of 567.1% versus 135.3% return for the S&P 500. The hedge fund’s 1.5% base fee and 16% performance fee is low relative to industry standards.

Last Tuesday (September 13th), another legendary investor Carl Icahn (Long Herbalife) was right next to me at the Delivering Alpha and I didn’t even see him.

Yes, I know!!! Oh my god.

In case you don’t know, Icahn is one of the world’s most famous hedge fund managers and activist investors. As the chairman of Icahn Enterprises LP, Icahn says “Some people get rich studying artificial intelligence. Me, I make money studying natural stupidity” according to his Twitter bio. I love that quote.

How did this happen? During a coffee break before Stephen Schwarzman – Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Blackstone (another legend) – was due to speak in front of investors, press, students (me unfortunately), etc…I lost my focus.

How did I lose my focus? I wanted to be on the cover of Institutional Investor magazine. Well, not the real magazine. There was a photo booth at the conference.

Why was the fake magazine cover so important? Besides being in love with finance, I wanted to get a picture of my handsomeness. Someone who works for NBC even told me I was handsome when I was leaving the event. My response was “I always look handsome” which is a fact.

…So here I am, stepping on the booth while Icahn is just passin’ by!

Baby Boy right to the Crazy Old Man
The legend is on the left. I’m on the right. Is Icahn looking at me?

I was 5-10ft away from the man I admire and I didn’t even see him. I didn’t even notice the cameraman with a strong lighting. I noticed nothing. I was thinking about how I made it to the cover of Institutional Investors magazine and Forbes is next.

Here is the video of me on CNBC for the first time and Carl Icahn on the same screen.

I messed up…for this handsome picture of myself.

Khojinur Usmonov on the cover of Institutional Investors magazine.
Khojinur Usmonov on the cover of Institutional Investors magazine.

Although I didn’t see Icahn there, I did see him on stage after the interview of Schwarzman with CNBC’s Becky Quick.

Schwarzman Interview at the 6th Annual Delivering Alpha:

Great summary of the interview can be found on the Institutional Investor’s website.

BECKY QUICK: I think Blackstone has gone from something around $35 to around $26 over the course of the last year. Why is that? What is that a reflection of?

STEPHEN SCHWARZMAN: That’s a reflection that investors are wrong.

I love the sarcasm.

STEPHEN SCHWARZMAN: I don’t want to be selling an asset that’s gone down because the world has gone down. If it’s a wonderful company, if I want to sell it, I’d sell it after everything goes well.

What Schwarzman is trying to say is…

“Investing is the only business I know that when things go on sale, people run out of the store” – Mark Yusko

Here comes Carl Icahn on stage:

Everybody excited. Their phones are out. Chairs are being moved to get a better angle of the legend.

img_5222
Carl Icahn, Icahn Enterprises chairman during his keynote at the 6th annual CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference

And no, Bill Ackman did not show up again.

Transcript of the CNBC interview with Icahn can be found on CNBC’s website.

CARL ICAHN: I think Ackman’s a smart guy.

CARL ICAHN: and, again, I think Ackman’s smart

CARL ICAHN: I really think he’s [BILL ACKMAN] a smart guy.

CARL ICAHN: I sort of like him [BILL ACKMAN]. I think he’s smart.

CARL ICAHN: I really believe Ackman being smart

I also think/believe Ackman is smart and so is Icahn.

I didn’t know Icahn was right next to me until I came home. At around 8:40 P.M, I come home. Until 10:24 P.M, I eat my dinner and some snacks, while checking emails and twitter, and reading news.

At 10:24 P.M, I’m scrolling through @CNBCnow twitter and that’s when I saw the video. My reaction was too graphic to describe it here.

The rest is history.

Delivering Alpha 2016 is one of the moments I will forever remember. I really enjoyed the conference and meeting people from the media and hedge fund world.

Although I came late to the conference, at around 1:40 P.M, and missed Ray Dalio, the experience was still amazing. Not just amazing, but also incredible, stunning, astonishing, etc.

Delivering alpha as a concept is all about beating the market. Over the past six years, the investment conference has brought many great investors who got a track record of actually delivering alpha to speak in front of audience.

CNBC and Institutional Investor hosted the annual Delivering Alpha conference at NYC’s Piere Hotel.

I will forever remember this day, September 13, 2016.

What’s Next?

So far I met Ben Bernanke, Marcus Lemonis, Chamath Palihapitiyaa (CEO of Social Capital), Bill Ackman, and Carl Icahn. Who’s the next high-profile person I will meet? Janet Yellen? Mario Draghi? Warren Buffett? Stay tuned.

So far I made it to Bloomberg (for real) and Institutional Investors (literally), what’s next? Forbes? WSJ? Time Person of the Year? Stay tuned.

It’s only matter of time before I’m on stage at the Delivering Alpha and media asks me questions. Stay tuned.

Interviewed By Bloomberg

In the morning of Friday, July 15th, I’m going to the lower Manhattan, where I will meet my mentor from NYSSA SEMI Program. During the commute, I’m thinking about the current events, my trading strategies and how handsome I am.

While I’m waiting for her, I sit down and chill. By chill, I mean looking at the prices of stocks and currencies, and checking Twitter (news junkie).

While I’m staring at my phone, someone comes up and introduces himself. He explains a story they’re trying to pursue, “How to Stay Cool in Summer While Wearing a Suit”, and he wants to take a photo of myself and ask few questions.

Why not?

After the picture and questions, I ask what media the story is for. He said “Bloomberg Pursuits.”

I never heard of “Bloomberg Pursuits”, but I sure have heard of “Bloomberg.” In my mind, I was thinking “I made it!!!”

But, the story is directly about fashion, not finance. I have always thought of being on Bloomberg, talking about the financial markets. That will happen soon. I don’t know when, but I’m confident it will happen.

This was a great memorable experience. There’s more to come. I will be on Bloomberg countless times.

One question: After how many interviews by the media, will I get used to it?

Stay tuned…


How to Stay Cool in Summer While Wearing a Suit

Photography by: Keith E. Morrison/Bloomberg
Photography by: Keith E. Morrison/Bloomberg

Houston (Fed), We Have A Problem (Problems) – Part 1/2

15 seconds and counting

12….11…10…9….IGNITION SEQUENCE START….6….5….4….3….2….1….0….ALL ENGINES RUNNING….LIFTOFF….WE HAVE A LIFTOFF!

The Fed finally raised rates after nearly a decade.  On December 16, the Fed decided to raise rates – for the first time since June 2006 – by 0.25%, or 25 basis points. It was widely expected by the markets and I only expected 10bps hike. Well, I was wrong on that.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) unanimously voted to set the new target range for the federal funds rate at 0.25% to 0.50%, up from 0% to 0.25%. In the statement, the policy makers judged the economy “has been expanding at a moderate pace.” Labor market had shown “further improvement.” Inflation, on the other hand, has continued to “run below Committee’s 2 percent longer-run objective” mainly due to low energy prices.

Remember when the Fed left rates unchanged in September? It was mainly due to low inflation. What’s the difference this time?

In September, the Fed clearly stated “…surveybased measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.”

Now, the Fed clearly states “…some survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have edged down.”

So…umm…why did they raise rates this time?

Here is a statement comparison from October to December:

Fed Statment Comparation – Oct. to Dec. Source: WSJ
Fed Statement Comparison – Oct. to Dec.
Source: WSJ

On the pace of rate hikes looking forward, the FOMC says:

In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.

They clearly stated one of the things they look for, which is inflation expectations. But, they also did state that “inflation expectations have edged down.”

It seems to me that the Fed did not decide to raise rates. The markets forced them. Fed Funds Futures predicted about 80% chance of a rate-hike this month. If the Fed did not raise rates, they would have lost their credibility.

I believe the Fed will have to “land” (lower back) rates this year, for the following reasons:

  • Growing Monetary Policy Divergence

On December 3, European Central Bank (ECB) stepped up its stimulus efforts. The central bank decided to lower deposit rates by 0.10% to -0.30%. The purpose of lower deposit rates is to charge banks more to store excess reserves, which stimulates lending. In other words, free money for the people so they can spend more and save less.

ECB also decided to extend Quantitative Easing (QE) program. They will continue to buy 60 billion euros ($65 billion) worth of government bonds and other assets, but until March 2017, six months longer than previously planned, taking the total size to 1.5 trillion euros ($1.6 trillion), from the previous $1.2 trillion euros package size. During the press conference, ECB President Mario Draghi said the asset eligibility would be broadened to include regional and local debt and signaled QE program could be extended further if necessary.

ECB might be running out of ammunition. ECB extending its purchases to regional and local debt raises doubts about its program.

Not only ECB is going the opposite direction of the Fed. Three weeks ago, Bank of Japan (BoJ) announced a fresh round of new stimulus. The move was hardly significant, but it is still a new round of stimulus. The central bank decided to buy more exchange-traded fund (ETF), extend the maturity of bonds it owns to around 7-12 years from previously planned 7-10 years, and increase purchases of risky assets.

I previously stated in “Central Banks Smash: No Growth, No Inflation“,

The extensions of its QE are beginning to become routine or the “new normal”.

Japan's ETF Market - BoJ's holdings Source: Bloomberg
Japan’s ETF Market – BoJ’s holdings
Source: Bloomberg

The move by BoJ exposes the weakness of its past actions. It suggests the bank is also out of ammunition. Already owning 52% or more of the Japan’s ETF market and having a GDP-to-Debt ratio around 245%, it is only a matter of time before Japan’s market crashes. Cracks are already beginning to be shown. I expect the market crash anytime before the end of 2019.

So, what are the side-effects of these growing divergence?

For example, the impact of a US dollar appreciation resulting from a tightening in US monetary policy and the impact of a depreciation in other currencies resulting from easing in its monetary policies. Together, these price changes will shift global demand – away from goods and services produced here in the U.S. and toward those produced abroad. In others words, US goods and services become more expensive abroad, leading to substitution by goods and services in other countries. Thus, it will hurt the sales and profits of U.S. multinationals. To sum up everything that is said in this paragraph, higher U.S. rates relative to rates around the global harms U.S. competitiveness.

  • Emerging Markets

Emerging markets were trouble last year. It is about to get worse.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) decided to include China’s currency, renminbi (RMB) or Yuan, to its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket, a basket of reserve currencies. Effective October 1, 2016, the Chinese currency is determined to be “freely usable” and will be included as a fifth currency, along with the U.S. dollar, euro, Japanese yen, and pound sterling, in the SDR basket.

“Freely useable” – not so well defined, is it?

Chinese government or should I say People’s Bank Of China (PBOC), cannot keep its hands off the currency (yuan). It does not want to let market forces take control. They think they can do whatever they want. As time goes on, it is highly unlikely. As market forces take more and more control of its exchange-rate, it will be pushed down, due to weak economic fundamentals and weak outlook.

China, no need to put a wall to keep market forces out. Let the market forces determine the value of your currency. It is only a matter of time before they break down the wall.

In August, China changed the way they value their currency. PBOC, China’s central bank, said it will decide the yuan midpoint rate based on the previous day’s close. In daily trading, the yuan is allowed to move 2% above or below the midpoint rate, which is called the daily fixing. In the past, the central bank used to ignore the daily moves and do whatever they want. Their decision to make the midpoint more market-oriented is a step forward, but they still have a long way to go.

China saw a significant outflows last year. According to Institute of International Finance (IFF), an authoritative tracker of emerging market capital flows, China will post record capital outflows in 2015 of more than $500 billion. The world’s second largest economy is likely to see $150 billion in capital outflow in the fourth quarter of 2015, following the third quarter’s record $225 billion.

Ever since the devaluation in August, PBOC has intervened to prop yuan up. The cost of such intervention is getting expensive. The central bank must spend real money during the trading day to guide the yuan to the level the communists want. Where do they get the cash they need? FX reserves.

China’s foreign-exchange reserves, the world’s largest, declined from a peak of nearly $4 trillion in June 2014 to just below $3.5 trillion now, mainly due to PBOC’s selling of dollars to support yuan. In November, China’s FX (forex) reserves fell $87.2 billion to $3.44 trillion, the lowest since February 2013 and largest since a record monthly drop of $93.9 billion in August. It indicates a pick-up in capital outflows. This justifies increased expectations for yuan depreciation. Since the Fed raised rates last month, I would not be surprised if the capital flight flies higher, leading to a weaker yuan.

China Reserves Source: Capital Economics
China Reserves
Source: Capital Economics

Depreciation of its currency translates into more problems for “outsiders,” including emerging markets (EM). EMs, particularly commodities-linked countries got hit hard last year as China slowed down and commodity prices slumped. EMs will continue to do so this year, 2016.

The anticipation of tightening in the U.S. and straightening dollar put a lot of pressure on EM. EM have seen a lot of significant capital outflows because they carry a lot of dollar denominated debt. According to the October report from IFF, net capital flows to EM was negative last year for the first time in 27 years (1988). Investors are estimated to pull $540 billion from developing markets in 2015. Foreign inflows will fall to $548 billion, about half of 2014 level and lower than levels recorded during the financial crisis in 2008. Foreign investor inflows probably fell to about 2% of GDP in emerging markets last year, down from a record of about 8% in 2007.

Capital Flows to Emerging Markets, Annual Data Source: IFF
Capital Flows to Emerging Markets, Annual Data
Source: IFF, taken from Bloomberg

Also contributing to EM outflows are portfolio flows, “the signs are that outflows are coming from institutional investors as well as retail,” said Charles Collyns, IIF chief economist. Investors in equities and bonds are estimated to have withdrawn $40 billion in the third quarter, the worst quarterly figure since the fourth quarter of 2008.

A weaker yuan will make it harder for its main trading partners, emerging markets and Japan, to be competitive. This will lead to central banks of EM to further weaken their currencies. Japan will have no choice but to keep extending their QE program. And to Europe. And to the U.S.      DOMINO EFFECT

Why are EMs so important? According to RBS Economics, EMs have accounted for 50%-60 of global output and 70% of global economic growth each year since the 2008 crisis.

Emerging Markets Share of Global Economy Source: RBS Economics
Emerging Markets Share of Global Economy
Source: RBS Economics

Some EM investors, if not all, will flee as U.S. rates rise, compounding the economic pain there. Corporate debt in EM economies increased significantly over the past decade. According to IMF’s Global Financial Stability report, the corporate debt of non-financial firms across major EM economies increased from about $4 trillion in 2004 to well over $18 trillion in 2014.

Figure 3.1. Emerging Market Economies Evolving Capital
EM Corporate Debt and Market Cap. Source: IMF – Page 84

When you add China’s debt with EM, the total debt is higher than the market capitalization. The average EM corporate debt-to-GDP ratio has also grown by 26% the same period.

EM Corporate Debt (percent of GDP) - Page 84
EM Corporate Debt (percent of GDP) – Page 84

The speed in the build-up of debt is distressing. According to Standard & Poor’s, corporate defaults in EM last year have hit their highest level since 2009, and are up 40% year-over-year (Y/Y).

Corporate Defaults Source: WSJ
Corporate Defaults
Source: WSJ

According to IFF (article by WSJ), “companies and countries in EMs are due to repay almost $600 billion of debt maturing this year….of which $85 is dollar-denominated. Almost $300 billion of nonfinancial corporate debt will need to be refinanced this year.”

I would not be surprised if EM corporate debt meltdown triggers sovereign defaults. As yuan weakens, Japan will be forced to devalue their currency by introducing me QE which leaves EMs with no choice. EMs will be forced to devalue their currency. Devaluations in EM currencies will make it much harder (it already is) for EM corporate borrowers to service their debt denominated in foreign currencies, due to decline in their income streams. Deterioration of income leads to a capital flight, pushing down the value of the currency even more, which leads to much more capital flight.

Let IMF explain the situation in EM,

“Firms that have borrowed the most stand to endure the sharpest rise in their debt-service costs once interest rates begin to rise in some advanced economies. Furthermore, local currency depreciations associated with rising policy rates in the advanced economies would make it increasingly difficult for emerging market firms to service their foreign currency-denominated debts if they are not hedged adequately. At the same time, lower commodity prices reduce the natural hedge of firms involved in this business.”

According to its Global Financial Stability report, EM companies have an estimated $3 trillion in “overborrowing” loans in the last decade, reflecting a quadrupling of private sector debt between 2004  and 2014.

EM Corporate Bond Composition (Billions of U.S. dollars) - Page 86
EM Corporate Bond Composition
(Billions of U.S. dollars) – Page 86
Private Sector Debt to GDP (Percent - Page 11
Private Sector Debt to GDP
(Percent – Page 11

Rising US rates and a strengthening dollar will make things much worse for EMs. Jose Vinals, financial counsellor and director of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, said in his October article, “Higher leverage of the private sector and greater exposure to global financial conditions have left firms more susceptible to economic downturns, and emerging markets to capital outflows and deteriorating credit quality.”

I believe currency war will only hit “F5” this year and corporate defaults will increase, leading to the early stage of sovereigns’ defaults. I would not be surprised if some companies gets a loan denominated in euros just to pay off the debt denominated in U.S dollars. That’s likely to make things worse.

Those are some of the risks I see that will force the Fed to lower back the rates.  I will address more risks, including lack of liquidity, junk bonds, inventory, etc, in my next article. Thank you.

EXTRA: Market reactions,

EUR/USD:

EUR/USD - Hourly Chart
EUR/USD – Hourly Chart

USD/JPY:

USD/JPY - Hourly
USD/JPY – Hourly

10-Year Treasury Index:

10-Year Treasury Index (TNX on thinkorswim platform) - Hourly
10-Year Treasury Index ( “TNX” on thinkorswim platform) – Hourly

2-Year U.S. Treasury Note Futures:

2-Year U.S. Treasury Note Futures ( "/ZT" on thinkorswim platform) - Hourly
2-Year U.S. Treasury Note Futures ( “/ZT” on thinkorswim platform) – Hourly