Big-Risk = Big-Return is true for individual securities. But not for a portfolio. A common misconception for investors (and traders).
Risk-Reward has a positive correlation, but it’s not perfect.
Risky securities are diversifiable by lower correlated/negative correlated securities. By buying low correlated securities to hedge your risky security, are you lowering your upside? No. You’re lowering your downside.
For investors, capital preservation is more important than the growth of capital. The bigger the investment loss, the greater the gain required to break even. A 20% investment loss requires a 25% gain to get back to the initial investment value. Whereas a 40% loss requires 67% and 70% loss requires 233%. The best offense is a good defense.
If you invest $10,000 in S&P 500 ETF and a recession causes the market to drop 30%, the $7,000 value would need to gain 43% to get back to $10,000.
Let’s look at the following 3 portfolios, each with a different strategy:
Portfolio 1 is invested 100% in S&P 500 (SPY).
SPY’s annualized standard deviation is 15%.
Portfolio 2 is invested 60 and 40 in S&P 500 (SPY) and Investment Grade Bond Fund (FBNDX).
Both are 0.31 correlated, based on annual returns.
FBNDX’s stdev is 4%.
Portfolio 3 is invested 33.34%, 33.33% and 33.33% in S&P 500 (SPY), Investment Grade Bond Fund (FBNDX) and U.S Real Estate ETF (IYR), respectively.
IYR is 0.69 correlated to SPY. 0.63 correlated to FBNDX. Correlation is based on annual returns.
IYR’s stdev is 21%.
* I initially wanted to backtest them for 30 years, but since IYR was the only real estate ETF I could find with the earliest fund inception date (June 2000), the backtest is from Jan 2001 to Dec 2016.
Downside protection strategies may help prevent investors from their bad habits of overreacting to downside volatility and incorrectly timing the market, missing the boat of high returns. Over the past year, S&P gained 18.10% while an average investor gained half of the growth.
If you are a passive investor, consider downside protection strategies to limit volatility and build wealth over the long-term.
Diversify portfolio with:
Bonds (Finance 101) such as Treasuries, high-yield bonds, TIPS, etc.
International equities (different geographies, different returns/risks), such as, emerging and frontier market equities, etc.
I endorse the idea of employing a multi-asset strategies that lower the downside potential while increasing the upside potential or even decreasing the upside potential less than the decrease in the downside potential.
I am not saying you should allocate your portfolio to every asset there is. It depends on your goals, lifestyle, risk preferences, your responsibilities, the investment % of your overall capital, etc etc etc.
How you allocate each security is up to you (or your financial advisor), or me me me me.
No portfolio is risk-free, but minimizing the downside can help mitigate the pain inflicted by market “fire and fury” and a changing risk landscape in globalization era.
If you have any questions/comments/suggestions, feel free to contact me personally and/or leave a comment below.
PS: Maybe make Bitcoin/Ethereum/Litecoin 5% of your portfolio.
PS: Active traders should also minimize the downside risk, especially if you work, have school, etc.
PS: Never mind. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe.
In the previous two articles, I wrote about my forex trading and equity investments performance for the first quarter of this year. In this article, I will talk about my 1st quarter performance for equity/commodity trading.
For the first quarter of 2017, my active trading performance for equities and commodities (commodity ETFs) was up 3.51%.
For years, I could not trade equities and commodity ETFs due to commissions. Thanks to Robinhood, I’m not able to trade for free.
I closed the SCO position a month later at 22.55% gain, the biggest gainer of all positions closed during the first quarter of this year.
My biggest loss came from VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX). I thought volatility would pick up in the coming month (and it did a little bit). However, after they underwent 1:10 reverse split on March 16th, I did not want to risk having the ETN go to single digits once again, so I indeed closed the position at 17.27% loss.
In nominal terms, the 22.55% gain on SCO is 3 times larger than the 17.27 loss on TVIX.
There are other positions that made and lost money. But overall, my portfolio was up 3.51% in the 1st quarter.
I can only go long securities on Robinhood. My current positions are SPXS, WFC, LULU, DIS, EXPE, VRX.
I went long on Direxion Daily S&P 500 Bill and Bear 3x Shares (SPXS), which is inverse of S&P 500, because I believe investors are underestimating the negatives of Trump’s policies. Once investors realize the negatives of Trump’s fiscal policies and/or his actual policies are less stimulative as he proposed, the market will take a dump.
A lot of people think tax rate will be reduced to 15%. I have been watching some of Trump’s TV interviews, especially on Fox News, and it seems Trump himself does not believe tax cut will be 15% or lower. He basically said it might have to be little higher, say around 20%.
I also watched Trump’s body language and I believe Trump is not confident in what he’s saying about his fiscal stimulus plan as he was during the campaign.
So when the actual plan is released, investors will be disappointed.
SPXS is also a small hedge for my portfolio as I’m long individual U.S. stocks.
And finally, I’m long Valeant (VRX). I went long on the pharmaceutical company the day after Bill Ackman revealed he cut his $4 billion loss.
Valeant recently extended the maturity of their debt until the early 2020s, which gives them about 5 years to restructure their capital and the company. Plus, they have over $5 in cash for each share.
Just because Ackman lost big on VRX does not mean he’s not a great investor. He is a great investor (that’s why he’s rich?). If you watch his presentations and talks, he knows about he’s talking about. He does his research and deeply cares about other people. At least that’s what I think.
The current positions I mentioned above can change at any time or reverse. Thank you.
Over the past 40 years (1977 to 2016), S&P 500 has had inflation-adjusted annualized return rate of 7.20%, that’s having dividends reinvested. That means $1 grew to $16.14.
Without dividend reinvestment, S&P 500 has had annualized return of 4.12%, which means $1 grew to $5.02.
Can you see the power of time and compounding? I hope you see it.
Let’s assume you’re 20-years-old, saving $1,000 each year for the next 40 years. When you’re 59, you will have $40,000 in cash. That is considering zero inflation.
Now, let’s assume you invest in the market that will give you inflation-adjusted annualized return of 5%, without dividends. When you’re 59, you will have $97,622.30.
Lastly, let’s assume you invest in the market that will give you inflation-adjusted annualized return of 5%, with 1.5% annual dividend. When you’re 59, you will have $141,731.09.
Oh My God! The Power of Time and Compounding!
If you want to invest, invest now. Don’t let all-time highs scare you.
S&P 500 is currently yielding 1.93% dividend. Since the late 1800s, the lowest dividend yield was 1.11% in August 2000. The average dividend yield is 4.38%.
The returns you see above and below are before taxes. Tax laws might be different in 2056.
In this post, I will outline some of my plans to be a very long-term investor. I’m mostly trader and investor with less than the 5-year horizon.
Money Should Not Be Emotional
Over a year ago, I tried to open a ROTH IRA (retirement) account. After filling out the answers to countless questions, the application asked me to provide a proof of income. At the time, I did not have a job. So I just gave up on the application and did not think about it until last January.
I spent so much money in December and January alone, the expense amount freaked me out. I asked myself two key questions:
What can I do to save more?
What are the non-mandatory expenses?
One of the ways I can save more is, believe it or not, recycling bottles/cans (I don’t consider it income). In a family house of 6, we drink a lot, especially water. I drink about 12 bottles of water a day….using the same bottle. I fill the bottle with boiled water. Others just waste the bottles. I rather profit from people’s mistakes.
All those bottles collected in about two weeks made me $5.65, worth almost 6 pizzas, 2 each day. Or 6 yogurts, 3 each day.
If I make $10 every month for two hours of work, I can make $120 a year. That money can add up over the long term once invested in dividend-yielding ETFs.
I will not continue collecting bottles/cans (side hustle) once I get a full-time job/live on my own. I’m doing this now because I don’t even do my own laundry….yet.
I also figured out the non-mandatory expenses to cut back on, specifically on “ex”-food items I used to buy on a pulse. Small purchases (gum, candy, etc), for example, can add up over time. Those purchases are paid in cash. Well, I don’t carry a lot of cash. I carry reasonable amount. How you define ‘reasonable’ is up to you.
Why I don’t carry a lot of cash:
No track of cash flow. Credit card allows that
Risk of theft
Worried about losing the wallet
To avoid small purchases
Savings and Investing on Auto-Pilot
In January and February, I decided to open multiple accounts to keep my cash, rainy day savings, investments and deposited more money into my Robinhood brokage account.
Why multiple accounts? Because I don’t trust FDIC, which “protects” or “insurances” depositors to at least $250,000 per bank. I’m paranoid someday FDIC won’t be able to protect every depositor, after a major hack or something. Who knows, it might even take a long time to get depositors’ money back.
What if I lose my debit card? I wouldn’t want all/most of my cash in that account. At most, I keep 30% of my cash in the checking account. Now, my cash and short-term securities (stocks, etc) are diversified among multiple accounts.
Besides the savings account (almost 1% interest), I opened two more investments accounts. These accounts are different than Ameritrade/Robinhood.
Financial Literacy Is Very Important
The first account is Acorns, an investment app that rounds up user purchases and invests the change in a robo-advisor managed portfolio. For me, there’s no fee since I’m a student and under 24. I don’t trust robo-advisers, but this case is different. There are only 6 ETFs which I have looked into and decided they were good for the long-term in a diversified portfolio. 75% of its users are millennials.
The second account is Stash, an investment app that allows users to pick stocks in themed based investments around wants (Clean & Green, Defending America, Uncle Sam, etc). This app is also targeted toward millennials. Unlike Acorns, Stash charges you even if you are a student. But, the first three months are free. Like Acorns, Stash has a subscription fee of $1 per month for accounts under $5,000 and 0.25% a year for balances over $5,000.
Studies show 48% of Americans cite a lack of sufficient funds as their main barrier to investing. Luckily, technology is transforming the way people invest. Start small. Before you know it, it is big.
Both of the micro-investing apps are like savings/IRA accounts for me since I can grow my portfolio through dividends. I have checked out the ETFs Acorns invests in, they are good. I have checked out the ETFs Stash offers. Most of them are good. I have invested in the stable ones with low expense ratio relatively to its dividends.
Unlike ROTH IRA, I will need to pay taxes on realized capital gains, dividends and income interest.
Whopping 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in a savings account and 50% of them have $0 in that account. All these people playing Candy Crush should be thinking about their future. Be a Robo-Saver and Be a Robo-Investor.
Note: All of my $$$ comes from off-book jobs, scholarships, prizes, and living under mommy and daddy’s roof (Can’t wait to move out). This post doesn’t mean I will stop trading. I will continue to trade forex, stocks, and commodities.
Liquidity is the investor’s ability to buy and sell a security without significantly impacting its price. Lack of liquidity in a security can have its consequences. Post financial crisis regulations, such as Volcker Rule (Dodd-Frank), and Basel 3, has made it more expensive and more difficult for banks to store bonds in their inventories and facilitate trades for investors. Regulations designed to make the system more safer have depressed the trading activity.
Lack of supply is one cause for diminishing liquidity. Banks, the dealers of corporate bonds, have reduced their inventories. According to Bank for International Settlements (BIS), “Market participants have raised concerns that regulatory reforms, by raising the costs of warehousing assets, have contributed to reducing market liquidity and could be keeping banks from acting as shock absorbers during periods of market stress.”
According to BIS, “US primary dealers…have continued to reduce their corporate bond inventories over the past years. Since the beginning of the year 2013, they have cut back their net positions in U.S. Treasuries by nearly 80%.
Another big cause of decreasing in liquidity is technology. A technology that has changed the structure of markets, high-frequency trading (HFT), an algorithm computer trading in seconds and in fractions of seconds, account for much larger share of the trading transactions and it leads to low liquidity. Majority of HFTs, if not all, reduces liquidity by pairing selected (self-interest), leaving out others. According to BIS, 70% of U.S. Treasury trading is done electronically, up from 60% in 2012. For both high-yield bonds (not highly liquid asset), it accounts for more than 20%. About 90% of transactions on bond futures take place electronically. I have no doubt electronic trading will continue to increase.
“Greater use of electronic trading and enhanced transparency in fixed income markets typically comes at the cost of greater price impact from large trades.”, BIS said in the report. Bonds now trade in smaller transaction sizes than they did before, “… large trades seem less suitable for trading on electronic platforms because prices move quickly against participants who enter large orders due to the transparency of the market infrastructure.” “It “discourages market-makers from accommodating large trades if they fear that they cannot unwind their positions without risking a sizeable impact on prices.”
BIS in its quarterly review report (March 2015) stated (source: FINRA’s TRACE data), the average transaction size of large trades of U.S. investment grade corporate bonds (so-called “block trades”) declined from more than $25 million in 2006 to about $15 million in 2013.
This is a sign of illiquidity since “trading large amounts of corporate bonds has become more difficult.” Trades facing constrained liquidity puts investors, especially large investors, to a disadvantage.
Capacity to buy/sell without too much influence on the market prices are deteriorating. Lack of liquidity can causes wild swings in the bond prices, which then can affect the rest of the financial markets. Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.
They are connected, but let me tell you why they are so important. The U.S Treasury securities market is the largest, the most liquid, and the most active debt market in the world. They are used to finance the government, and used by the Federal Reserve in implementing its monetary policy. I repeat, in implementing its monetary policy. Having a liquid market – in which having no problem buying and selling securities without affecting the market price – is very important to the market participants and policymakers alike.
Examples of high volatility in a low liquidity:
Flash Crash (May 2010)
In a matter of 30 minutes, major U.S. stock indices fell 10%, only to recover most of the losses before the end of the trading day. Some blue-chip shares briefly traded at pennies. WHAT A SALE! According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report, before 2:32 p.m., volatility was unusually high and liquidity was thinning, a mutual-fund group entered a large sell order (valued at approximately $4.1 billion) in “E-mini” futures on the S&P 500 Index. The large trade was made by an algorithm. The “algo” was programmed to take account of trading volume, with little regard, or no regard at all, to the price nor time. Since the volatility was already high during that time and volume was increasing, this sell trade was executed in just 20 minutes, instead of several hours that would be typical for such an order, 75,000 E-mini contracts (again, valued at approximately $4.1 billion).
According to the report, this sell pressure was initially absorbed by HFTs, buying E-mini contracts. However, minutes after the execution of the sell order, HFTs “aggressively” reduced their long positions. The increase in the volume again led the mutual-fund group “algo” to increase “the rate at which it was feeding the orders into the markets”, creating what’s known as a negative feedback loop. That’s the power of HFTs.
This was nearly 6 years ago. Today, there’s no doubt the power of the secretive section of the financial markets, HFTs, are much stronger and powerful and can destroy the markets with “one finger”.
With low liquidity in the bond market and increasing HFT transactions in it, the threat is real. Automated trades can trigger extreme price swings and the communication in these automated trades can quickly erode liquidity before you even know it, even though there is a very high volume. While liquidity in the U.S. bond market is high, it’s not high enough to battle the power of the technological progress.
Let’s not forget. Fixed-income assets such as, corporate bonds, are often traded over the counter in illiquid markets, not in more liquid exchanges, as stocks are.
It’s all about profits. Some, if not all HFTs, act the way they do, to make profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, the creators of the algorithms have to be ethical and responsible. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon since profits are the main goal (mine too) in the financial markets. So why should HFT “be fair” to others? I know I wouldn’t.
Taper Tantrum (2013 Summer)
In the summer of 2013, the former Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, hinted an end to the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities (taper off, or slow down its Quantitative Easing), which sent the financial markets, including the bond market into a tailspin.
On June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke during a press conference said, “the Committee currently anticipates that it would be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year.” That sentence alone started the financial market roller coaster.
Yields skyrocketed. The gravity took down the value of greenback (U.S. Dollar). U.S. long-term interest rates shot up by 100 basis points (1%). Even short-term interest rate markets saw the rate-hike to come sooner than the Fed policymakers suggested. Borrowings costs increased so much, as the markets was expecting tightening of the monetary policy, it “locked up” the Fed from cutting the pace of bond buying that year.
This raises (or raised) whatever the market prices can handle orders that are executed in milliseconds. It points to a lack of supply (dealer inventories), A.K.A illiquidity. I feel bad for funds that have a lot of corporate-bonds in their portfolio. The struggle is real.
An open-ended funds that allow investors to exit overnight are more likely to experience a run, as market volatility increases. A run on funds will force the funds to sell illiquid assets, which can push down the prices lower and lower. Recently example of that is the Third Avenue (“investors’ money are being held hostage”).
Brace for a fire sale. Coming soon in your area.
Market makers, where are you? Come back. I need to sell the investments at a current price, before it goes much lower.
October 15, 2014
The financial markets experienced – as the U.S. Department of the Treasury puts it – “an unusually high level of volatility and a very rapid round-trip in prices. Although trading volumes were high and the market continued to function, liquidity conditions became significantly strained.”
On October 15, 2014, the markets went into a tailspin again. The Dow plummeted 460 points, only to recover most of the losses. The Nasdaq briefly fell into a correction territory, only to rebound sharply. The 10-year Treasury yield “experienced a 37-basis-point trading range, only to close 6 basis points below its opening level”, according the U.S. Treasury Department report.
According to Nanex, a firm that offers real-time streaming data on the markets, between 9:33 A.M and 9:45 A.M, “liquidity evaporated in Treasury futures and prices skyrocketed (causing yields to plummet). Five minutes later, prices returned to 9:33 levels.” “Treasury futures were so active, they pushed overall trade counts on the CME to a new record high.”, said the report.
“Note how liquidity just plummets.”
Again, as I said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.” The mayhem in in the bond market can spread to the foreign exchange (forex) market.
These types of occurrences are becoming common, or the “new normal”. As the Fed raises rates, the market participants will be adjusting their portfolio and/or will adjust them ahead of it (expectations), these adjustments will force another market volatility. But this time, I believe it will be much worse, as liquidity continues to dry up and technology progresses.
Recent market crashes and volatility, including the August 2015 ETF blackout, is just another example of increasing illiquidity in the markets. Hiccups in the markets will get bigger and will become common. Illiquidity is the New Normal.
Hello HFTs, how are you doing? Making $$$? Cool.
With interest rates around 0 (well, before the rate-hike in December), U.S. companies have rushed to issue debt. With the recent rate-hike by the Fed, U.S. corporate bond market will experience more volatility. Lower and diminishing liquidity will “manufacture” a volatility to a record levels that the financial markets and the economy won’t be able to cope with it. As said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.”, the corporate bond market volatility will spread to the rest of the financial markets.
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 “…survey—based 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:
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.
The extensions of its QE are beginning to become routine or the “new normal”.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
“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.
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.