The Next Big Threat: Illiquidity

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.”

Primary Dealer Net Positions (2006 to 2016) Source: MarketAxess
Primary Dealer Net Positions (2006 to 2016)
Source: MarketAxess

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).

May 6, 2010 - SPY Volume and Price Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 – SPY Volume and Price
Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 - SPY Volume and Price Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 – SPY Volume and Price
Source: SEC Report

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.

Markets' Reaction To June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke Press Conference Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Markets’ Reaction To June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke Press Conference
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

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.”

Liquidity in the 10 year as measured by total sizes of orders in 10 levels of depth of book. Source: Nanex
Liquidity in the 10 year as measured by total sizes of orders in 10 levels of depth of book.
Source: Nanex

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.

October 15, 2014 - World Currencies Source: Nanex
October 15, 2014 – World Currencies
Source: Nanex

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.

Oh wait, that already is happening. Reversal of monetary policy by the Fed this year, as I believe the Fed will lower back rates this year, will make things worse.

Liquidity: Peace out!

Eli Lilly (LLY) Is Overvalued – Too Costly To Buy (UPDATED)

UPDATE: This article is also posted on Seeking Alpha. For the first time, my article was accepted to be on Seeking Alpha. The link to the article on Seeking Alpha can be found here, or http://seekingalpha.com/article/3707566-eli-lilly-is-overvalued-too-costly-to-buy.

 

Eli Lilly (LLY) - Past 5-Years
Eli Lilly (LLY) – Past 5-Years

On October 22, Eli Lilly (LLY) reported an increase in the third-quarter profit, as sales in its animal health segment and new drug launches offset the effect of unfavorable foreign exchange rates and patent expirations. Indianapolis-based drug maker posted a net income increase of 60% to $799.7 million, or to $0.75 per share, as its revenue increased 33% in animal health segment. In January 2015, Eli Lilly acquired Norvartis’s animal health unit for $5.29 billion in an all-cash transaction. The increase in the animal-health revenue helped offset sharp revenue decreases in osteoporosis treatment Evista and antidepressant Cymbalta, whose revenue fell 35% and 34% year-over-year, respectively. Eli Lilly lost U.S. patent protection for both drugs last year, causing patent cliffs. Lower price for the Evista reduced sales by about 2%.

Total revenue increased 2% to $4.96 billion even as currency headwinds, including strong U.S. dollar, shaved 8% off of the top line in revenue. Recently launched diabetes drug Trulicity and bladder-cancer treatment Cyramza helped increase profits, bringing a total of $270.6 billion in the third-quarter. Eli Lilly lifted its guidance for full-year 2015. They expect earnings per share in the range of $2.40 and $2.45, from prior guidance of $2.20 to $2.30.

Despite the stronger third-quarter financial results, I believe Eli Lilly is overvalued.  Eli Lilly discovers, develops, manufactures, and sells pharmaceutical products for humans and animals worldwide. The drug maker recently stopped development of the cholesterol treatment evacetrapib because the drug wasn’t effective. Eli Lilly deployed a substantial amount of capital to fund Evacetrapib, which was in Phase 3 research, until they decided to pull the plug on it. The suspension to the development of Evacetrapib is expected to result in a fourth-quarter charge to research and development expense of up to $90 million pre-tax, or about $0.05 per share after-tax. Eli Lilly’s third-quarter operating expense declined 7% year-over-year, mainly due to spending on experimental drugs that failed in late-stage testing trials.

Eli Lilly’s market capitalization skyrocketed over the past five years by 122.76% to $90 billion, but their revenue, gross profit, net-income, operating income, as well as EBITDA, declined significantly. Over the past five years, its revenue decreased 14.61% from $23.08 billion to $19.70 billion (LTM), largely due to patent expirations. Gross profit and net-income declined 26.06% and 53.48%, respectively. Its operating income fell 59.18% over the past five years.

Eli Lilly - Revenue/Gross Profit
Eli Lilly – Revenue/Gross Profit

 

Eli Lilly - Key Financials
Eli Lilly – Key Financials

Its operating margin fell a halfway over the past five years from 28.30% to 13.53% (LTM). EBITDA margin, on the other hand, fell all the way to 18.73% (LTM) from 34.05%.

Key Margins
Eli Lilly – Key Margins

Meanwhile, shares of Eli Lilly gained 144.49% over the past five years. Its price-to-sales ratio too high compared to its history and to S&P 500. Its Price/Sales ratio currently stands at 4.6, vs. at 1.7 in 2010, while S&P 500 currently stays at 1.8 and industry average at 3.9. In addition to the falling revenue, gross profit, net-income, and EBITDA, its free cash flow fell significantly over the past five years by 72.24%, or fell 22.61% on a compounded annual basis.

Not only did their cash flow fall, but their net-debt increased significantly. Its net-debt increased by a whopping 1789.87% over the past five years from $199.5 million to $3.85 billion. They now have almost twice as much of total debt than they do in cash and equivalents. I believe Eli Lilly is at a risk for poor future ratings by rating agencies, which will increase their borrowing costs.

Eli Lilly – Total Cash/Total Cash/Net-Debt
Eli Lilly – Total Cash/Total Cash/Net-Debt

Strong U.S. dollar is an issue for Eli Lilly. Over the past five years, the dollar index increased 26.75%. Last quarter, its 49.2% of revenue came from foreign countries. Its revenue in the U.S. increased 14% to $2.54 billion, while revenue outside the U.S. decreased 9% to $2.42.

Eli Lilly - 2014 Geography Revenue
Eli Lilly – 2014 Geography Revenue

Eli Lilly’s dividend yield of 2.55% or 0.50 cents per share quarterly can be attractive, but it is undesirable. From 1995 through 2009 (expectation of 2003-2004), Eli Lilly raised its dividend. Payouts of $0.26 quarterly in 2000 almost doubled to $0.49 in 2009. Then, the company kept its dividend payment unchanged in 2010, the same year when its net-income, EBITDA and earnings per share (EPS) reached an all-time high. About four years later (December 2014), Eli Lilly increased the dividend to $0.50 quarterly. I still don’t see a reason to buy shares of Eli Lilly. The frozen divided before the recent increase was a signal that the management did not see earnings growing. With expected patent expiration of Cymbalta, their top selling drug in 2010, it is no wonder Eli Lilly’s key financials declined and dividends stayed the same. Cymbalta sales were $5.1 billion in 2013, the year its patent expired. In 2014, its sales shrank all the way down to $1.6 billion. Loss of exclusivity for Evista in March 2014 immensely reduced Eli Lilly’s revenue rapidly. Sales decreased to $420 million in 2014, followed by $1.1 billion in 2013. Pharmaceuticals industry continues to lose exclusivities, including Eli Lilly.

In December 2015, Eli Lilly will lose a patent exclusivity for antipsychotic drug Zyprexa in Japan and for lung cancer drug Alimta in European countries and Japan. Both of the drugs combined accounted for revenue of $866.4 million in the third-quarter, or 17.5% of the total revenue. They will also lose a patent protection for the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis in 2017, which accounted for $2.29 billion of sales in 2014, or 11.68% of the total revenue.

Besides the pressure from patent expirations, there is also regulatory pressures on drug pricing. According to second-quarter 10Q filing, Eli Lilly believes “State and federal health care proposals, including price controls, continue to be debated, and if implemented could negatively affect future consolidated results of operations.” During the third-quarter earnings call, CEO of Eli Lilly, John C. Lechleiter, said that price increases reflects many of medicines going generic and “deep discounts” government mandates for large purchasers.

As of October 16, Eli Lilly had two drugs under regulatory review, nine drugs in Phase 3 testing, and 18 drugs in Phase 2 testing. Since the end of July, the drug maker terminated the development of few drugs, including evacetrapib in Phase 3, two drugs in Phase 2, and five in Phase 1. Out of total eight drug termination, only five drugs moved to the next stage of testing. I view the recent termination of evacetrapib as a major setback.

Eli Lilly Pipeline
Eli Lilly Pipeline – Third Quarter Earnings Presentation – Page 16

Compared to its peers, LLY’s Price-to-Earnings ratio is too high. Its P/E ratio (on GAAP basis) stands at 38.22 while industry average stands at 17.7. Four of its main peers, Pfizer (PFE), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Merck (MRK), and Sanofi (SNY) P/E ratio stands at 24.08, 19.63, 14.41, and 22.38, respectively.

Negative trends, tighter regulations, increasing competition and slowing growth makes Eli Lilly’s current valuation unjustified. I believe it will reach an average P/E ratio of its four main competitors, at 20.12, in the next three years. I expect EPS (GAAP) to contract. With current EPS of $2.21 (LTM, GAAP) and P/E ratio of 20.12, share price would be worth $44.46, down 47.37% from current share-price of $84.47. As EPS contracts, the share price of Eli Lilly will be much further down from $44.46 in the next three years.


Disclosure: I’m not currently short on the stock, LLY, at this time (October 21, 2015).

Note: All information I used here such as revenue, margins, EBITDA, etc are found from Eli Lilly and Company’s official investor relations site, Bloomberg terminal and morningstar. The pictures you see here are my own, except “Eli Lilly Pipeline – Third Quarter Earnings Presentation – Page 16”

Disclaimer: The posts are not a recommendation to buy or sell any stocks, currencies, etc mentioned. They are solely my personal opinions. Every investor/trader must do his/her own due diligence before making any investment/trading decision.

Fed removes “patient”, and adds twists

Last Wednesday (March 18, 2015), the Federal Reserve released its statement on the monetary policy and its economic projections. The The Fed dropped from its guidance “patient” in reference to its approach to raising the federal funds rate. It was largely to be expected to be removed, which would have send U.S Dollar higher and U.S market lower. However, the opposite happened because of two twists; they lowered their economic projections, and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Janet Yellen’s words during the press conference.

According to the “dot plot”, the Fed lowered median “dot” for 2015 to 0.625% from 1.125% (December). What is “dot plot”? The Dot Plot is part of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)’s economics projections and it shows what each member thinks the federal funds rate should be in the future. It is released quarterly. Sometimes, it might be released more than that, depending on economic circumstances. It gives you a perspective of what each member of FOMC thinks about economic and monetary conditions in the future.

Again, the Fed lowered median “dot” for the end of 2015 to 0.625% from 1.125% in December (-0.50%). The Fed also lowered the “dot” for end of 2016 and 2017. For the end of 2016, it is at 1.875% from 2.5% in December (-0.625%). For the end of 2017, it is at 3.125% from 3.625% in December (-0.50%). Besides, the “dot”, Yellen said one thing that took a toll on the U.S Dollar.

Even though the Fed removed “patient” from the statement, Yellen had “patient” tone during the press conference. Yellen said ““Just because we removed the word “patient” from the statement does not mean we are going to be impatient,”. This sentence alone halted US Dollar from rebounding after it dropped on the statement. There are other things that complicates the timing of the rate-hike.

It’s now more complicated to predict the Fed’s next move because of three reasons; very strong US Dollar, low inflation, and economic crisis in Europe and Japan, if not United Kingdom too. US Dollar is too strong, hurting U.S exports. Inflation has declined due to falling energy prices. The struggling foreign countries economically can also hurt U.S economy. I believe two majors factor of the Fed’s next move are the strong US Dollar, and the low inflation. When both of them are combined together, it makes imports cheaper and keeps inflation lower. I believe Europe will start to get better–as Quantitative Easing (QE) fully kicks in–money starts flowing in Europe. European stocks will probably hit new highs in the coming years because of QE program. Once, the Fed raises the rates, the money will probably flow into Europe from the U.S because of negative interest rates. Low rates have been a key driver of the bull markets in the U.S stock market the past six years. Lower rates makes stocks more attractive to the investors.

Since, the “dot” has dropped harshly, I believe this could be a sign of late delivery of rate hike. They might hike the interest rate in September, not June. However, if non-farm payrolls number continue to be strong, average wage (indicator for inflation) lifts and oil prices rebound, then the door for rate-hike for June might still be open. For now, there is no sign of oil rebounding since it has dropped sharply this week. We will get the next non-farm payroll, which also includes average wage, on April 3.

In the statement, FOMC stated “The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term. This change in the forward guidance does not indicate that the Committee has decided on the timing of the initial increase in the target range.”

The Fed want to be cautions before raising the interest rates. They want more time to be sure; “further improvement in the labor market” and “reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent…” Although, non-farm payrolls have been strong lately, inflation is too low. The inflation is low because of the stronger dollar and the plunge in oil prices.

The Fed is in no hurry to increase the interest rate. The Fed said it would definitely not act on rates at “…April FOMC meeting.” and might wait until later in the year. I believe September has higher chance than June, from the rate-hike.

It looks to me that the Fed planned to send US Dollar lower. They probably wanted the US Dollar to be weaker before raising the rates, which could send the US Dollar a lot higher. Their plan worked. The US Dollar dropped so much that it sent EUR/USD (Euro against US Dollar) up 400 pips (above 1.10). U.S market rose after they were down ever since the release of non-farm payrolls for February. Dow gained over 200 points, as well as other indices.

 

Dow Jones (DJI) - 30 Mins
Dow Jones (DJI) – 30 Mins
US Dollar - 30 Mins
US Dollar – 30 Mins
EUR/USD - 30 Mins
EUR/USD – 30 Mins

 

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