Happy New Year! I have no resolutions since every day is like a new year for me.
In 2017, I focused more on active equity/commodity portfolio than the other portfolios as I finally was able to trade free of commissions, found more opportunities there and had money saved up from off-book jobs.
WHAT A BORING YEAR…for the stock market. Sometimes, boring is good. S&P 500 was up 21.64%.
The geometric average return since the financial crisis is 8.42% (2008-2017). Geometric average better reflects the returns over time since there’s always volatility in the market and volatility lower investment returns.
Since inception (November 2016), active equity/commodity portfolio is up 15.74%. For 2017, the portfolio returned 11.86%,way way below the market. No wonder active managers are not anyone’s favorites at this time.
I will address the significant drawdown you see in figure 2 at the bottom of this post.
The biggest gain of the year, both in a percentage and nominal terms, came from the first trade in 2017. The trade was long NUGT (3x leveraged gold ETF). I believed gold was unfairly beaten down and would recover around the new year as portfolios would be rebalanced and uncertainty with Trump’s economic plans at the time would force investors to hedge their portfolio. And that’s what happened in January 2016. I closed the position at 28% gain.
While trading 3x leveraged ETFs, Be cautious as they always go down even though the underlying security goes up. The structure of leveraged and inverse ETFs are different than most retail investors think. They are not a good idea to be held for a longer time and as a significant portion of a portfolio.
The biggest loss of the year, both in a percentage and nominal terms, came from the 5th trade in 2017. The trade was long TVIX (2x leveraged volatility ETN, not ETF). I believed volatility would pick up from February to March (and it did a little bit). However, after TVIX underwent 1:10 reverse split in mid-March, I did not want to risk having the ETN go to single digits once again. So I closed the position at 17% loss.
To briefly sum up, the biggest gain was 28% and the biggest loss was 17%. In positive nominal terms, the profit was three times larger than the loss (positive number).
At the time, both NUGT and TVIX were a significant portion of the portfolio (Robinhood). Over time, I deposited more money into the account as I saved up from off-book jobs and summer internship. The account is now 6 times larger than it was at the beginning of 2017. Larger account allowed me to have more flexibility and lower my exposure to a single trade.
I can only go long securities on Robinhood. Current positions are VRX (The biggest gainer at the moment, 112%. 14% of the portfolio), ORCL, XIV, ILMN, OMER, PSQ, SH, COL, TEVA, MTSI, and AXON (The biggest loser at the moment, -77%. 0.5% of the portfolio).
When talking about % gains on trades, traders should also look at those trades as a % of the portfolio. If I’m going to speculate on a one-time event, such as FDA ruling on a drug, I’m going to have a small exposure to that company (such as AXON). If I am profoundly convinced on the fundamentals of the company and/or technicals of the stock, I will have a higher exposure to that company (such as VRX).
It’s important to point once again these gains/losses are unrealized. The returns are subject to change…until the position closes.
Both PSQ and SH are inverse ETFs of the market. I have bought them as a small hedge for my portfolio as I’m long individual U.S. stocks.
Why am I long the stocks mentioned above? I will not go in-depth here.
$VRX: Extension of debt. Time flexibility to restructure the company.
$ORCL: Unfair share-price beat down after positive earnings report and market, in general, is trending higher.
$TEVA: TEVA calls were active after Allergan (AGN) was halted. Speculated upcoming positive news for TEVA. The week after, new CEO news. Sticking to TEVA as the new CEO has a great reputation and I’m confident his tenure will reward the shareholders.
$MTSI: Calls active and social media sentiment.
$AXON: Speculation on Alzheimer drug data. Chances were low, but I believed even a small positive side of the drug would help the stock price. I was wrong. Was initially 2% of the portfolio. Now 0.5%. Still open as I have nothing to lose.
As you saw in figure 2 (and figure 3 below), there was a large drawdown in the portfolio. Over 12% of the portfolio lost value in less 2 months. Why was that? It was largely due to VRX and TEVA tumbling. Both were little longer-term strategy and high conviction both companies would turn itself around. After 2 months, both stocks rebounded and hit 52-week highs afterward. Other stocks in the port during the 2 months were performing fine.
If it is one thing I learned as a trader, it is that high conviction leads to an ego which then leads to losses most of the time. So did I have an ego in this case? I don’t believe so. I was sticking to the initial trade strategy on VRX and TEVA, and there was no material news. It was the market noise. If the company fundamentals changed, then I might have changed my strategy on the trade (either close, cut down, or buy more shares).
Upcoming ‘Portfolio Performance’ articles will be on other portfolios.
These tweets, as you can guess – sent the shares of Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), which is the supplier of F-35 program, and Boeing (NYSE: BA) – down. From both tweets, Lockheed Martin lost billions in market cap. The rival Boeing was barely unchanged at the end, as it means more opportunities for them to gain more contracts.
However, Trump targeted Boeing in earlier December when he tweeted this;
Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!
Trump’s tweets are just awesome. The volatility it brings allows me to make more money than the non-volatility. As I mentioned in my previous article, I recently opened RobinHood account, broker with $0 commissions. Using the broker in the future, I’m planning to buy some shares of the companies Trump negatively targets, especially if investors overreact.
Since it seems Trump has a strong hatred towards Mexico and the U.S. companies working there, here are the potential targets;
Algos have yet to incorporate Trump’s tweets into their codes. It’s not that simple yet as it can be difficult to determine the sentiment from a tweet. Algos can easily get the direction of the stock wrong. We need more tweets to better analyze it.
But, will the future tweets move the markets or not? It all depends on how successful Trump is in implementing what he tweets. If Trump is unable to do so, he will just lose credibility.
Meanwhile, markets will react to the tweets and I plan to take advantage of them.
WHAT A YEAR! Market sell-off. Complete reverse afterwards. Full of surprises, from Brexit to Trump (not for me since I predicted them).
During the global markets crash in August of 2015, I completely lost all the money I made that year plus some more in forex. Witnessing markets free fall – faster than Luke skydiving 25,000 feet without parachute – for the first time ever crushed my account to death. (For the record, I wasn’t trading in 2008 and had absolutely no idea what was unfolding that time).
Thinking euro will go to the parity level by the end of 2015, most of my positions were crowded in shorting EUR (The Big Short). Just when I thought euro would follow the markets, it acted as a safe-haven.
Lessons learned the hard way:
Always keep enough cash for emergency and/or new opportunities (could not make new trades)
Do not keep most things in one place (EUR short)
Do not let the perceptions – media, traders, experts, you name it – fool you (“Euro is not a safe-haven asset”)
Taking all these lessons, I completely changed my strategy and will continue to tweak it to adapt to the current conditions. After taking a break from trading in September (2015), I opened a new forex account.
Started off strongly, with high standard deviations, but enough for me to sit through that. High-risk/High-reward. As I continued tweaking my strategy, I reduced the swings in the P/L.
Starting in August 18 of this year (2016), my returns have been very stable, trending upwards (see Figure 1). It went from 144.49% return to 184.42% as of the last trading day in 2016. Last August, I made a significant chance to my strategy which led to stable returns trending upwards. I continue to tweak my strategy little by little until significant change is needed. Repeat.
Since inception (09/29/2015), I have returned 184.42%. In the second half of this year, I deposited more money into the account. In turn, the % returns you see in the pictures above and below, has a huge difference in nominal amounts.
In 2015, I returned 117.48%. This year, I have returned 32.82%. Since the inception, percentage of profitable trades are 50.70%, with the average gain per trade 3.82 larger than the amount of average loss per trade.
Sharpe ratio is 1.13 (not good yet), with average monthly return of 11.01% and 33.79% standard deviation of monthly return. Compounded monthly rate of return is 7.22%.
I predicted Brexit and profited bigly off it. 30.77% of the profit came from pair GBP/USD. Thanks Brexit. How did I predict Brexit?
Largest loss was 5.21%, from pair AUD/USD. I don’t know what to blame except myself.
As to predicting Trump’s win, the profit was a fraction of Brexit profit, via other pairs than Mexican peso currency. The day after the election, the peso suffered its largest one-day drop since the Tequila Crisis of the 1990s. Too bad I did not have access to peso pair at the time. How did I predict Trump win? Tweet 1, 2.
If you invested $1,000 in me at the inception, that money would have been worth $2,844.23 today.
You can still invest in me. Minimum investment is $1,000. Contact me for more details.
Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. ― Plato
During my junior year in high school, I became a member of Key Club, an organization which provides its members with opportunities to provide service, build character and develop leadership. This was the first club I ever joined, after avoiding all clubs and school events for 2 years.
After the speeches for all positions, members were to vote a person of their choice for each position. Unfortunately, I became in 2nd place for the treasury role. Well actually, I was in the last place since there were only two people running for the position. It was not a big deal for me anyway.
Several months later, I was sitting in my room staring at the news and currency charts. I was thinking about my future; college and career.
As I was thinking, I promised myself I would open my own club in college. What kind of club? I don’t know. But, I will open a club. Only time will tell.
A year later, I’m sitting in the same room staring at the news and currency/equity charts. I was weighting the costs and benefits of attending certain colleges. After being rejected from my number one choice, Columbia University, I had to choice between Binghamton University and Baruch College.
Why not Binghamton? Tuition was over $24,000, $14K had to come out of my own pocket (unless I got scholarships; not guaranteed). In others words, I would had to take out a student loan, which I promised I would never take. Lastly, the campus was four hours away from the financial capital of the world; New York City.
On the other hand, one major reason I wanted Binghamton was that I would move out from my parent’s house and be independent. But, the benefits were heavier on Baruch’s side. To this day, I still live with my parents; rent-free with……um……no……um……..no responsibilities.
During my first semester at the city university, I started going to Finance & Economics Society (FES) club. At the end of the semester, they were few positions open, one of them: Sales & Trading. I applied for it, got interviewed, and got accepted into the program. I got accepted not because I stood out from the crowd, but because there was no competition at all.
Joining a club with some smart people that conducted themselves professionally, was uncomfortable for me. A confront zone is a beautiful place, nothing ever grows there.
Over the next three semesters at FES, I learned incredibly so much both career-wise and personal-wise. Two important skills I gained were debating and leadership, thanks to Kenneth Tjonasam and the team. As the director of the S&T program, Kenneth challenged me and others to give our own ideas and asked us tough questions when we gave it. And he did much more than that.
Why did Andrew Carnegie pay a million dollars a year, or more than three thousand dollars a day, to Charles Schwab? Why? Because Schwab was a genius? No. Because he knew more about the manufacture of steel than other people? Nonsense. Charles Schwab told me (Dale Carnegie) himself that he had many men working for him who know more about the manufacture of steel than he did.
Schwab says that he was paid this salary largely because of his ability to deal with people.
That’s how good Kenneth was. Except in this part, he is also a genius.
In the middle of sophomore year, I had a flashback; sitting in my room and promising myself I would open a club. At the time of the flashback, I was sitting in my room staring at the news and currency/equity/commodity charts. Without contemplating, I planned to start Hedge Fund Club (HFC).
I wanted to share my passion with others and give back to the Baruch community. The purpose of HFC was;
Hedge Fund Club’s purpose is to trade financial instruments actively while allocating different asset classes effectively. To maximize capital and minimize risks, the club will use top-down approach and technical analysis to find the best investment opportunities. The club will offer opportunities for the Baruch Community to get know the hedge fund industry and network with the people in the industry, developing Baruch College’s exposure to the hedge fund industry.
Over the next several months, I filled out the papers the student government wanted, in addition to finding a club adviser. My team and I chose Bruce Kamich, well respected and highly talented technical analyst professor at Baruch College. Professor Kamich was the best fit for the HFC’s mission and I’m thankful for his advice. I have yet to take his class.
And finally, the student government asked my team to hold three HFC meetings before an interview with them to get the club chartered.
My team (Vice-President – Thomas Jing, Secretary – Jamal Moody, and Treasurer – Jinay Shah) and I held the meetings in April and May, attaining 14 members. For the undisclosed reasons, the interview was forwarded to early September. Over the summer, I along with my team worked on most of the PT presentations and outlined the meetings for the fall semester. September came and there still was no interview. To sum up, there’s no HFC anymore (unless someone else starts it).
I take full responsibility for the failure of Hedge Fund Club. This is the biggest failure of my career. And this will definitely go into my book.
The reasons for the failure is classified. It will be declassified in my book, or when I’m on the cover of Forbes. (Few people know at this time).
I will continue to guide people who might be interested in markets/trading/technical analysis/investing/blogging. I will continue to meet with them during my own time. I will continue to have conversations with them. I will continue to debate with them. I will continue to ask “why” if the reasons are not clarified.
While the vision and the goals for HFC will not see a light anymore, I will let it shine after college. I plan to create my own program and/or join a mentorship program.
I have seen extremely talented students. I want to make sure they use their brain for something they love. I have seen students with a strong curiosity in a subject (mostly finance related). I want to make sure they continue to build their knowledge foundation and guide them, but it’s up to them to choose which road to take. I have seen students with no clue what they want to do when they grow up. I want to make sure they go out of their confront zone and try out new things.
Wander around the unknown and you might just discover your passion. – Khojinur Usmonov
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.
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?
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.
Markets were pricing less than 30% chance of rate-hike and most people in the financial markets were not expecting rate-hike. Well, not me. I was actually expecting 0.25%, 10 basis points rate increase, as I stated in my previous post.
“Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term.” Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said in statement. They are referring to events that took place in August, that can be described in one word; uncertainty.
Before we go any further, let’s compare the last two Fed statements.
According to the Fed’s famous “Dot Plot” – that is where committee members think interest rates are going – one committee member, for the first time ever, thinks the U.S needs to move to negative interest rates until the end of 2016.
During the press conference, Janet Yellen – the chairwoman of the Fed – indicated that negative rates were not “seriously considered at all today” and that the policymaker in question was “concerned by the inflation outlook”. The Fed looks at a model “Phillips Curve” which states that inflation and unemployment have a stable and inverse relationship. It hasn’t been working lately.
She said something that I found very interesting, “That’s something we’ve seen in several European countries. It’s not something we talked about today. Look. If not– I don’t expect that we’re going to be in the path of providing additional accommodation but if the outlook were to change in a way that most of my colleagues and I do not expect and we found ourselves with a weak economy that needed additional stimulus, we would look at all of our available tools and that would be something that we would evaluate in that kind of context.” This shows that even the Fed is uncertain about the future and another quantitative easing is a possibility.
If you want to see the body language from Yellen as she said it, go watch the press conference video. It can be very interesting. Any body language experts here?
The Fed also raised growth forecast for the year and cut unemployment projection.
Yellen expressed that some countries other than China are also danger to the U.S, “…we saw a very substantial downward pressure on oil prices and commodity markets…significant impact on many emerging market economies that are important producers of commodities, as well as more advanced countries including Canada, which is an important trading partner of ours that has been negatively affected by declining commodity prices, declining energy prices….important emerging markets have been negatively affected by those developments. And we’ve seen significant outflows of capital from those countries, pressures on their exchange rates and concerns about their performance going forward. So, a lot of our focus has been on risks around China but not just China, emerging markets, more generally in how they may spill over to the United States.”
Back to “wait and see” mode again. Weak start in the year hammered the chances of rate-hike in June. Now, outsiders hammered the chances of rate-hike in September. Next stop?
If the current situation stays unchanged, I expect rate increase of 0.10% (again) in October (FOMC press conference will be called if the Fed decides to change rates). But, the current situation might get much worse. The bad news might come from China again.
Xi Jinping, China’s president and Communist Party chief, will arrive in the U.S next week to meet President Obama and business leaders. After the meeting when Mr. Xi is back in China, unpredictability arrives.
China would not want to create tension with the U.S before they meet face-to-face. Thus, unpredictability comes in two or three weeks. China might devalue their currency again, by 5% or more. They might even dump much more U.S Treasuries again.
It’s reported that China dumped U.S Treasurys of $83 billion and $94 billion in the month of July and August, respectively. Why would China sell U.S Treasurys? China is in dire need of cash. Capital outflows are increasing substantially and their stock market are declining substantially. China would want to cut its holdings of treasurys to support the yuan.
According to latest data from the U.S Treasury Department, China’s holdings of U.S Treasuries was $1.240 trillion in the end of July (is probably much less now), the smallest since February 2015. In end-June, China held $1.271 trillion. China remains the world’s largest holder of U.S debt. What does that mean for the U.S?
If U.S’s #1 lender stops supporting or stops buying U.S debt, the cost of everything that depends on Treasury rates could rise, putting pressure on the Federal Reserve and prevent the Fed from raising rates. Treasury yields (inverse relationship with prices) are the benchmark that sets the cost of borrowing.
China’s abandonment of U.S Treasury debt is a warning.
Imagine if China’s major trading partner, Japan, joins China in selling U.S Treasuries. Japan is the second-largest holder of U.S. Treasuries, with $1.197 trillion in July. The devaluation of Yuan will make Japanese exports less competitive. Japan’s economy is still suffering despite Abenomics. As I stated in my post “Global Markets Crash + Asian Crisis Part 2“, Abenomics has failed. Soon enough, Japan might also be in dire need of cash and they might start cutting their holdings of U.S Treasuries.
Recently, Standard & Poor’s slashed its ratings on Japanese debt from AA- to A+ because of weak economic growth, blaming Abenomics “…we believe that the government’s economic revival strategy–dubbed “Abenomics”–will not be able to reverse this deterioration in the next two to three years.” According to Standard & Poor, Japan’s Debt/GDP ratio currently stands at 242.4%, a dangerous level for developed country.
I believe Bank of Japan (BoJ) will increase its purchases of government debt to cover the danger of Japan’s Debt/GDP ratio and will sell portion of U.S Treasurys.
We can conclude everything will probably get much worse. The Fed will have no other choice, but to start another round of quantitative easing. In other words, debt monetization, a process of buying Treasury and corporate debt on the open market, increasing money supply. When increasing money supply, interest rates should fall.
The Fed is being held hostage by outsiders, such as China and Brazil. It probably won’t end well for the U.S, promoting another round of Quantitative Easing.
Last Friday (May 5, 2015), Bureau of Labor Statistics released non-farm payrolls (jobs report) for May and it was way beyond expectations. 280,000 jobs were added in May (largest since December) vs. expectations around 225,000. It’s a strong sign that the US economy is recovering from the contraction that occurred in first quarter of 2015 (January-March).
The unemployment rate ticked higher by 0.1% to 5.5% from 5.4%, as more people are entering labor force (because their confidence in the jobs market are increasing). In May, 397,000 people entered labor force, mostly recent college graduates.
Average hourly earnings increased 0.3% on month-to-month basis from 0.1% in April. Over the year, it increased 2.3%, largest rise since August 2013. It’s indication that future consumer spending will increase. When consumers spend more money, companies generate more money and eventually hire more people. Basically, it’s a short-term demand in the economy.
March and April numbers were revised. March was revised from 85,000 to 119,000 (+34,000) and April revised from 223,000 to 221,000 (-2,000).
There were big increases in employment in professional and business services (+63,000), leisure and hospitality (+57,000), and healthcare (+47,000). Meanwhile, employment in mining fell for the fifth month in a row (-17,000) as low energy prices continues to hurt energy companies.
This is the most important US economic report because it shows how first quarter, which contracted 0.7%, are due to transitory factors and guides the Federal Reserve on the path of raising the interest rates. As a result of strong jobs report, June rate-hike door is not closed. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will be meeting on Tuesday, June 16, and Wednesday, June 17. At 2 PM EST, economic projections, statement and federal funds rate will be released followed by 2:30 PM EST press conference. The markets will be extremely violent during the time because it’s highly watched by investors and traders.
After the release of the report, US Dollar (USD) rose. USD against JPY (Yen) soared to a new 13-year high. US markets were mixed as investors/traders differently interpret what the jobs reports means for the future.
The day before the jobs report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed its forecasts for US economic growth and called for the Fed to hold off its first rate increase until the first half of 2016. The IMF said a series of negative shocks, including unfavorable weather, a sharp contraction in oil sector investment, the West Coast port strike, and the effects of the stronger dollar, hindered the first quarter of 2015. Thus, it promoted a downgrade to its growth expectations to 2.5% for this year, from 3.1% in April.
IMF says that FOMC should remain data dependent and act after signs of a pickup in wages and inflation. Well, the jobs report for May was positive, including wages. So is IMF wrong? Did they talk too early? You decide.
In IMF’s view, “raising rates too soon could trigger a greater-than-expected tightening of financial conditions or a bout of financial instability, causing the economy to stall. This would likely force the Fed to reverse direction, moving rates back down toward zero with potential costs to credibility.” —- “raising rates too late could cause an acceleration of inflation above the Fed’s 2 percent medium-term objective with monetary policy left having to play catch-up. This could require a more rapid path upward for policy rates with unforeseen consequences, including for financial stability.”
So when is the right time to raise rates? I believe it’s in July or September (no meeting in August) only if we continue to see pickup in wages, employment, and Consumer Price Index (CPI). Even through the chance of rate hike in June is very low, I would not be surprised if Fed decides to hike rates. Even if they do, it will be surprising to most people at Wall Street and markets will definitely be violent – I would consider it “mini-SNB” (SNB – Swiss National Bank), because of SNB’s action in January (unscheduled release – removing the cap on euro-franc).
Feel free to contact me by going to “Contact Me” above or leave your comments below. Twitter: @Khojinur30. Thank you.
Update on MSFT: I’m still watching MSFT (Microsoft stock ticker) for good entry. I will go long on it in the future at a good entry price. Microsoft stock and other blue chip stock fell after Intel slashed revenue outlook due to weak PC demand. The decrease in the price of MSFT is still a good buying opportunity.
Last Wednesday, Reserve Bank of New Zealand left the Official Cash Rate unchanged at 3.5%. NZD (Kiwi) quickly reacted by rising as it disappointed traders who were looking for rate cut. In a statement by the Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler, cited that the New Zealand dollar “…remains unjustifiably high and unsustainable in terms of New Zealand’s long-term economic fundamentals.” I still believe that RBNZ will intervene and send NZD down, if not by rate-cut. I would be short on NZD/USD, at this time.
Upcoming: Bank of Japan (BoJ, Late Monday/early Tuesday – March 16/March 17 EST), Federal Reserve (Wednesday – March 18 – 2 P.M EST) and Swiss National Bank (SNB, Thursday – March 19 – 4:30 A.M EST).
BoJ will either hold or increase the stimulus package. If they do, JPY (Yen) will be bearish–sending USD/JPY further up–after rising to over 121.00 this week. If they don’t, we have to watch for their tone. It will be either bearish or bulling on the Yen, depending on what BoJ say, or react.
Federal Reserve will be watched very closely after a very positive non-farm payrolls last week. This week, U.S stocks were a roller coaster. There was a hard sell-off in equities and a bullish USD (U.S Dollar), due to an increasing chance of rate-hike. On Thursday (March 12, 2015), Retail Sales came out very negative. Retail Sales fell 0.6% (-0.6%), worse than expected of 0.3%, following -0.8%. Core Retail Sales (excluding automobiles which accounts for 20% of Retail Sales) fell 0.1% (-0.1%), worse than expected of 0.6%, following -1.1%. However, it was little better than previous report in February. I believe people who are saving money from low oil-prices are probably paying off their debts, before they spend on “wants”. The U.S market reacted positively because some people thought that negative Retail Sales would hold-off the Federal Reserve from raising the interest rates. On Wednesday, the Fed might also drop “patient”, signaling that rate-hike is very close.
SNB might set a new floor to the exchange rate (EUR/CHF). I would not trade CHF (Swiss Franc) because of two reasons. One, it’s too violent and there is no clear direction yet. Second, SNB does not know what it’s doing after what they did in January. But, I would still watch out closely, as it might affect other pairs, such as EUR and USD.