Post-Brexit: Uncertainty Everywhere, Everything on the Sidelines (Cash Too), and Market Index Copycats

Yes, I know markets have been rallying and S&P 500 has been hitting all-time highs. But, remember Brexit?

In case you forgot, the people of United Kingdom voted to leave European Union on June 23rd. Markets then destroyed more than $3 trillion in paper wealth in the next 2 days (Friday and Monday).

After that, market just shook it off. As Taylor Swift says, “Shake It Off.” “It’s gonna be alright.”

The actual businesses and people in the UK just cannot shake, shake, shake, shake, shake,….it off.

The UK job market went into “freefall” as the number of people appointed to full-time roles plunged for a second successive month in July, according to a survey. An index of permanent positions dropped to 45.4 from 49.3 the previous month, the lowest level since May 2009. A number below 50 indicates a decline in placements (contraction). Employers in the survey cited Brexit-related uncertainty.

The same uncertainty that scared away some investors and sit on cash, including me. 91% of investors made money in July as US markets kept hitting record highs, according to Openfolio, an app that allows you to connect and compare your portfolio to 60,000 other investors. Average cash holdings of these investors grew 25% over the past three months leading up to July.

75% of investors lost money in June as Brexit uncertainly weighted in. The portfolio of the majority of investors are tracked with S&P 500. The problem here can be described by Ron Chernow,

As a bull market continues, almost anything you buy goes up. It makes you feel that investing in stocks is a very easy and safe and that you’re a financial genius.

93% of investors lost money in January as the energy prices plunged and uncertainty in China scared investors.

Here’s another quote by Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad),

As a bull market turns into a bear market, the new pros turn into optimists, hoping and praying the bear market will become a bull and save them. But as the market remains bearish, the optimists become pessimists, quit the profession, and return to their day jobs. This is when the real professional investors re-enter the market.

I’m naturally contrarian like Bill Ackman. I love going against the crowd. I love Bill Ackman. When I met him, I had no problem keeping my cool after learning my lesson from the Ben Bernanke experience.

Bill Ackman (left) Khojinur Usmonov (right)
Bill Ackman (left)
Khojinur Usmonov (right)

Being contrarian has made me money. It has also got me into “value trap” like buying $TWTR around $34.

The UK labor market survey was released a day after Bank of England cut rates and expanded quantitative easing.

  • On Thursday (August 4th), Bank of England (BoE) cut rates by 25bps (0.25%) to 0.25%, the lowest since the central bank was founded in 1694 (322 years) and the first cut since March 2009.
    • The central bank signaled further cut to the interest rate if the economy deteriorates further, “If the incoming data prove broadly consistent with the August Inflation Report forecast, a majority of members expect to support a further cut in Bank Rate to its effective lower bound at one of the MPC’s forthcoming meetings during the course of the year.” (I’ll address the recent economic reports and BoE’s forecasts later in this article)
    • During the press conference, Mark Carney (The Governor of BoE), stated he is not a fan of negative interest rates. He clearly stated that MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) is very clear lower bound is above zero. Options other than NIRP (Negative Interest Rate Policy) are available, “we have other options to provide stimulus if more stimulus were needed.”
    • Carney told banks they have “no excuse” not to pass on the rate cut in full to customers. In other words, he’s telling them not to mess with him.
    • “With businesses and households, anyone watching, if you have a viable business idea, if you qualify for a mortgage, you should be able to get access to credit.”
  • With 6-3 vote, they will provide an extra 60 billion pounds ($78 billion) of newly created money by buying government bonds over six months, extending the existing quantitative easing (QE) to 435 billion ($569 billion).
  • To cushion the blow to banks’ profitability, BoE will provide up to 100 billion pounds ($130 billion) of loans to banks close the base rate of 0.25% under the Term Funding Scheme (TFS). The scheme will charge a penalty rate if banks do not lend.
    • “The TFS is a monetary policy instrument. It reinforces the transmission of Bank Rate cuts and reduces the effective lower bound toward zero, it charges a penalty rate if banks reduce net lending, it covers all types of lending, and it is funded by central bank reserves.” (Page 6)
  • With 8-1 vote, BoE will also buy as much as 10 billion pounds ($13 billion) of corporate bonds in the next 18 months, starting in September. For that, BoE is targeting non-financial investment-grade corporate bonds, issued by “firms making a material contribution to the UK economy” (Page 3)

I did not expect that much of stimulus.

While I was wrong on this one, I was right in July when markets expected rate-cut and expansion of QE.

Note: I’m always active on Twitter. Follow me, @Khojinur30.

The stimulus comes as recent economic data has been weak. Confidence tumbled. Manufacturing, construction activity, and service-sector all shrank sharply.

Consumer confidence dropped 11 points to -12 in July, the sharpest month-to-month drop (M/M) since March 1990.

GfK Consumer Confidence Index Souce: Trading Economics
GfK Consumer Confidence Index
Souce: Trading Economics

Activity among UK manufacturers contracted at its fastest pace at the start of third quarter. UK manufacturing PMI (Purchasing Mangers’ Index) fell to 48.2 in July, down from 52.4 in June, the lowest levels since February 2013.

Market/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI Source: Markit/CIPS
Market/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI
Source: Markit/CIPS

Manufacturing sector accounts for 11% of the UK economy.

UK manufacturing stats:

  • Employs 2.6 million workers, accounting for 8.20% of the working population.
    • “UK manufacturing employment decreased for the seventh straight month in July, the rate of job loss was the second-sharpest for almost three-and-a-half years” the PMI report said.
    • It also stated “Weaker inflows of new work and declining volumes of outstanding business also suggest that employment may fall further in coming months.”
  • Contributes to 10% of GVA (Gross Value Added), which measures how much money is generated through goods and services produced. In 2014, GVA per head on average in the UK was 24,616 pounds ($32,113), growing 3.6% Y/Y.
  • Accounts for 44% of total exports. Exports alone account for 27.4% of the UK’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
    • Export orders rose for the second successive month in response to the weaker pound. On July 6th, sterling plunged to $1.2788, the lowest since 1985.
  • Represents 69% of business research and development (R&D), which accounts for mini 1.67% of the UK’s GDP.

What is also interesting in the PMI report is the input price. Input price inflation rose to a five-year high in July, “reflecting a sterling-induced rise import costs.” Some part of the increase in costs “was passed through to clients.”

Markit/CIPS UK Input Prices Index Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Input Prices Index
Source: Markit/CIPS

UK construction industry, accounting for 6.5% (Parliament.uk – PDF download) of the economic output, suffered its sharpest downturn since June 2009 as the sector came under pressure from the uncertainty. UK construction PMI inched down 0.1 to 45.9 last month.

Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI
Source: Markit/CIPS

Clients of the construction firms had adopted “wait-and-see” approach to projects rather than curtailing and canceling the projects.  The same “wait-and-see” that has caused investors like me to sit on cash (Cash on sidelines).

“Insufficient new work to replace completed projects resulted in a decline in employment numbers for the first time since May 2013” the PMI report stated. The construction industry accounts for 2.1 million jobs, 6.62% of the working population. The industry contributes to 6.5% of GVA.

And services too. UK services PMI plunged to 47.4 in July from 52.3 in June, the first contraction since December 2012 and the fastest rate of decline since March 2009 and the steepest M/M decline (-4.9) since PMIs began in July 1996.

The sector accounts for 78.4% of the UK economic output.

Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI
Source: Markit/CIPS

Not surprisingly, the sentiment of businesses dropped to the lowest since February 2009.

Market/CIPS UK Services PMI Expectations Source: Markit/CIPS
Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI Expectations
Source: Markit/CIPS

Bank of England slashed its growth and increased its inflation forecasts. The central bank slashed its growth forecast for 2017 to 0.8% from initial estimate of 2.3%, making it the biggest downgrade in growth from one inflation report to the next. They now expect inflation to hit 1.9% in 2017, from previous estimate of 1.5%.

For 2018, the economy is expected to grow at 1.8% from previous estimate of 2.3%, and CPI is expected to hit 2.4% from previous estimate of 2.1.

Unemployment is expected to reach 5.4% next year from initial estimate of 4.9%, that is more than 250,000 people losing their job….even after the stimulus.

The bank’s outlook also includes lower income and housing prices to decline a “little” over the next year.

UK house prices fell 1% in July, according to a survey by Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. The reports for the next few months will sure be interesting.

Confidence will continue to fall in the coming months as uncertainty will continue to exist and businesses will be extremely cautious with regard to spending, investment and hiring decisions, and people will be cautious with regard to spending.

All these survey conducted shortly after Brexit reflects an initial reaction. What matters now, especially after the new wave of stimulus, is the level of uncertainty and the magnitude of contractions. The three PMIs – manufacturing, construction, and services – accounting for almost 96% of the economic output, does not cover the whole economy as the retail, government and energy sectors (Oh energy), are excluded. However, it is clear the UK economy is slowing and is likely to slow in the coming quarters. Until clouds stop blocking the sun from shining, we won’t have a clear picture of the economy.

Will there be a recession or not? I’m not calling for any recession at the time. I will get a better idea of where the UK economy is heading as we get more data.

Tomorrow (Tuesday):

Manufacturing production.

In two weeks:

Consumer Price Index (CPI) – With data reflected in the PMIs and the amount of stimulus announced by BoE, inflation overshoot is possible. This report in two weeks will only reflect July. We should get better of where inflation is going in September and October.

Jobs report

Retail Sales

In four weeks:

Another manufacturing and construction PMIs. The services PMI comes the week later.

I should make a call on whatever the will be recession after the data and some by mid-September.

Without fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus alone cannot offset most of the Brexit ills. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, signaled loosening of fiscal policy in October. By then, it just might be too late.

Extra: Bad Karma

Pros and Cons of Brexit

On June 23rd, Britain people will vote to stay in or leave (Brexit) the European Union. The verdict matters a lot since it is a life-changing decision. I will briefly address some of the pros and cons of Brexit, but will further address it after the vote, especially if UK leaves EU.

Brexit Pros:

  • The European Union costs United Kingdom 350 million pounds ($503 million) a week. That’s $26.2 billion a year, 4.6 times less the UK education budget of $121.1 billion in 2015. That $26.2 billion is 1% of 2015 GDP of $2.63 trillion. That $26.2 billion is 2.45% of 2015 total spending of $1.07 trillion.

Note: That 350 million pounds a week cost is before “the rebate.” In 2015, Britain actually paid under 250 million ($359 million) pounds a week. But hey, UK does not control the rebates. The cost of membership has been increasing over the years, especially after the financial crisis.

UK Payments To EU Budget Since 1973
UK Payments To EU Budget Since 1973

What happened with Greece and is still happening, is a warning sign of more economic troubles to come in Europe. That possibly will continue to increase the cost of EU membership.

  • Under EU fundamental right of free movement, Britain cannot prevent anyone from another member state coming in to the country. This has resulted in a huge increase in immigration into Britain from Europe.

In 2015, 270,000 EU citizens immigrated to the UK and 85,000 EU citizens emigrated aboard. Net-migration was 185,000.

Migration By Nationality
Migration By Nationality

2.94 million people living in the UK in 2014 were citizens of another EU member country. Those people account for 4.7% of the UK population.

2.2 million citizens of another EU member country are in work, 7.02% of working population. Majority of EU member citizens are coming to the UK for work reasons. 61% of the migration who came for work reasons were EU citizens.

Immigration To The UK By Main Reason
Immigration To The UK By Main Reason

See how EU citizens coming to the UK for work reason started to accelerate in 2013. This can be related to economic difficulties such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. As I mentioned above, “What happened with Greece and is still happening, is a warning sign of more economic troubles to come in Europe.” That should lead to even more upsurge in migration for work reason, making it more competitive for UK citizens to find jobs and possibly lowering wages.

If UK decides to leave EU, the country would be able to reform immigration laws without input from the EU and increase jobs and wages for UK citizens (hopefully they have the skills).

Brexit Cons:

  • EU membership makes UK attractive for international investment and provides access to trade deals with more than 50 countries around the world (expensive makeup, isn’t it?). Because EU institutions have the ability to prevent the UK from negotiating its own trade deals outside Europe, it would have to re-negotiate some trade deals, with EU and non-EU countries including the US, China, Japan and India. It is extremely possible the Brexit will impair confidence and investment for few years.

In 2015, the EU accounted for (pdf download) 43.7% of exports and 53.1% of imports

In 2014, the EU accounted for 496 billion pounds ($712 billion) of the stock of inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), 48% of the total. Globally, the UK is the third largest country in terms of its absolute value of inward FDI stock ($1.7 trillion), followed by China ($2.7 trillion) and U.S. ($5.4 trillion).

Why is FDI so important? It has the potential for job creation and productivity, increasing both output and wages.

If UK were to leave EU, it would dampen FDI due to uncertainty of the future. Firms would reduce investment in UK, leading to lay offs and so on (domino effect).

3.3 million UK jobs are linked to UK exports to other EU countries. Auto industry would be particularly at risk. In 2015, 77.3% of cars built in the UK were exported, a record high. EU demand grew 11.3%, with 57.5% of exports destined for the continent. In 2014, the motor vehicle manufacturing accounted for 7.9% (pdf download) of total manufacturing, up from 5.4% in 2007. The end of free trade agreements would definitely hurt UK automotive industry.

If UK were to leave the Single Market (EU), locating production in the UK would be less attractive because it would become more costly to ship to EU members. 77% of members of SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) – the voice of the UK motor industry – believes remaining in EU would be the best for their business. 9% believes Brexit is the best path. 14% doesn’t know, like economists don’t know the real impact of Brexit due to a large base of issues and views.

66% believes EU important to them because of its access to EU automotive markets.

Why The EU Is Important To SMMT Members
Why The EU Is Important To SMMT Members

Brexit would send a ripple effect. For the government (less tax revenue), for businesses (rising costs) and for consumers (lower income).

There’s also the issue of UK citizens in the other EU member countries. They have the right to live, work, vote, run a business, buy a property, and use public services such as health. Some, if not all, of these rights could vanish if UK leaves the EU.

Sure, UK will try to protect them. Since one of the main goals of Brexit is stop the inflows of immigrants into UK from EU, EU might retaliate against it.

UK (the wife) has been married to EU (the husband) for 43 years (UK joined EU in 1973). Part of her wants to get out of the cage. Other part of her wants to keep some of the benefits. If Brexit, it will be very expensive and messy divorce, but may be for the good.

 

There are so many views on this “monumental” and “out-of-focus” complicated issue. Not every issue is covered in this article. If UK is the first country to leave EU, I will do much more research and analyze it.

If you have any views, I would love to know in the comments below. If you have any questions about any issues related to Brexit, I would be happy to answer them ASAP. Don’t be surprised if the answer is 5 paragraphs long. Thank you.

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

In the previous article, Houston (Fed), We Have A Problem (Problems) – Part 1/2, I addressed two risks (growing monetary policy divergence and emerging markets)  that will force the Fed to “land” (lower back) rates this year. I will address more risks here.

One huge risk that I will not address here, but will address in a future article is “lack of liquidity”. While I was doing research, I came across more information that I expected. I’m still getting more information and I believe it will be a great article. I will give a sneak peek of the article in the bottom of this article.

Junk Bonds, Credit Spreads, Energy, Manufacturing, Earnings Decline:

Earlier last month (December 10, 2015), Third Avenue’s Focused Credit Fund (FCF), a large mutual fund specializing in risky, high-yielding bonds, announced it would block investor redemptions, “no further subscriptions or redemptions will be accepted.” In mid-2014, they had $3.5 billion assets under management (AUM). As of December 31, 2015, they only had AUM of $660.67 million, as investors rushed to get their money back because of weakness in the junk bond market.

Now, investors’ money are being held hostage. “The remaining assets have been placed in a liquidating trust”, said David Barse, CEO of the firm, as the investor requests for redemptions and the “general reduction of liquidity in the fixed income markets” made it impossible for the fund to “create sufficient cash to pay anticipated redemptions without resorting to sales at prices that would unfairly disadvantage the remaining shareholders.”

The process is a pain in the ass, “Third Avenue anticipates that the full liquidation process may take up to a year or more.” Again, investors’ money are being held hostage.

This events highlights the danger of “over-investments” into risky areas, high levels of corporate debt, AND the lack of liquidity (will be addressed in a future article). With interest rates hovering around 0 (well, before the rate-hike in December), U.S. companies have rushed to issue debt.

Investors who poses a higher risk appétit can find junk bonds, yielding higher interest rates, to be “useful” for their style and capacity of investment. More rewards for more risks, right?

As the global economy continues to struggle, namely China and emerging markets, yield on junk bonds have been increasing since they are a higher chance of defaulting.

Rising interest rates adversely impact bond prices, pushing their yield of the bond higher (inverse relationship). While increase in rates does not largely affect junk bonds since they have a higher coupon (yield) and shorter maturities (shorter maturity means less price sensitivity to rates), current junk bond market combined the impacts of a stronger dollar and low commodity prices can be extremely adverse and dangerous.

High-yield debt yields, as represented by Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Effective Yield, have been increasing since mid of last year. It rose from 5.16% (June 23, 2014) to current 9.23%. That’s whopping 78.88% increase, representing the growing risks of junk bond market.

BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Effective Yield Source: retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Effective Yield
Source: retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

 

According to Lipper, investors pulled out a total $13.88 billion from high-yield funds in 2015, with $6.29 billion in December alone. As redemptions increase, funds may suffer as high-yields are harder to trade due to its lack of liquidity (will talk more about the major risk of illiquidity in a future article) and funds may have to take an action like the Third Avenue did.

Credit spreads (difference in yield between two bonds of similar maturity but different credit quality) are widening, which possibly signals a wider economic trouble ahead. Widening credit spreads mark growing concerns about the ability of borrowers to service their debt. Not only borrowers will suffer, but also lenders since they lost money.

BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Option-Adjusted Spread, representing the credit spread of the high yield bond market as a whole, have been increasing the middle of 2014. It’s currently at 775 (7.75%) basis points (bps).

BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Option-Adjusted Spread is currently 1,804bps wide (18.04), a level of highly distressed territory. Credits are defined as distressed when they are trading more than 1,000bps (10%) wide.

BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Option-Adjusted Spread AND BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Option-Adjusted Spread Source: FRED Economic Data
BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Option-Adjusted Spread AND BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Option-Adjusted Spread
Source: FRED Economic Data

I believe it will continue to increase this year, reflecting the worsening of the credit conditions that would cause greater concern among investors and policymakers (Hi, Ms. Yellen. Time to reverse the policy?)

iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG), an index composed of U.S. dollar-denominated, high yield corporate bonds, is already down 1.39% year-to-date (YTD) and was down 10.58% in 2015, expressing the increasing uncertainty by the investors, as they pull back their money from high-yielding bonds/ETFs. The exposure of the index to CCC rated bonds, B rated bonds, and BB rated bonds, are 8.88%, 38.73%, and 50.25%, respectively. Stronger U.S. dollar and lower commodity prices are expected (and it will) to hurt the earnings of U.S. companies, increasing the chances of defaults, especially in energy.

iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG)
iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG)

The index’s energy exposure is 9.38%. Recently oil prices plunged to levels under $30. Energy companies borrowed a lot of debt during oil price boom, to increase production (so that they can gain more market share), are now being haunted by their own actions. A lot of energy companies are currently under an extreme pressure to make a dime, as oil prices plunge. According to law firm Haynes and Boone, 42 North American oil and gas producers filed for bankruptcy last year. Those 42 defaults account for approximately $17 billion in cumulative secured (over $9 billion) and unsecured debt (almost $8 billion).

2015 E&P Bankruptcy Filings Source: Law firm Haynes and Boone - Slide 5
2015 E&P Bankruptcy Filings
Source: Law firm Haynes and Boone – Slide 5

Out of those 42 bankruptcy filings, 18 of them come from Texas, a leading state in energy production. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Texas had a capacity of over 5.1 million barrels of crude oil per day and accounted for 29% of total U.S. refining capacity, as of January 2015, and accounted for about 29% of U.S. gas production in 2014.

In 2014, Texas gross domestic product (GDP) increased 5.2% year-over-year (Y/Y), the second greatest change in state GDP after North Dakota. Mining industry accounted for 1.25% increase to GDP, its largest contributor. Texas’s GDP accounted for 9.5% of U.S. total GDP in 2014.

The collapse of energy prices over the past several years are “fracking” down the Texas economy. The Dallas Federal Reserve’s general business activity index “collapsed” to -34.6 in January, the lowest reading since April 2009, when Texas was in recession. Same with company outlook index, it fell to -19.5 in January from -10.5 in December.

Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – General Business Conditions Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – General Business Conditions
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

The production index – a key measure of state manufacturing conditions – fell all the way from 12.7 in December to -10.2 in January. New orders index fell -9.2 in January from -7 in December.

Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – Business Indicators Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – Business Indicators
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Employment Index, on the other hand, sharply dropped to -4.2 in January from 10.9 in December. Texas is a home to many energy giants, such as Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB), Halliburton (NYSE: HAL), Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI), Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP). The companies slashed off tens of thousands of jobs over the past year and cut capex significantly, as the current stressed energy market heavily weighted on them.

In January 21, Schlumberger reported 38.7% decrease in fourth quarter revenue Y/Y, and net income declined substantially to a loss of $989 million, compared with profit of $317 million in the same period of 2014. Texas-based energy giant’s North American region 4th quarter revenue fell 54.79% to $1.9 billion from $4.3 billion in the same quarter of 2014. The company’s earnings announcement warned of a “deepening financial crisis in the E&P industry, and prompted customers to make further cuts to already significantly lower E&P investment levels. Customer budgets were also exhausted early in the quarter, leading to unscheduled and abrupt activity cancellations.” As a result of a weaker quarter and worsening conditions, they plan to lay off 10,000 workers, adding to already laid-off 34,000 workers, or 26% of its original workforce, since November 2014.

On Monday (January 25, 2016), Halliburton reported its fourth quarter earnings. Halliburton’s 4th quarter revenue fell 42% in Y/Y to $5.08 billion, including a 54.4% plunge to $2.1 billion in its North American region, which accounted for 42.4% of total revenue in 4Q.  On a GAAP basis, the Texas-based energy giant (and another one) reported a quarterly net loss of $28 million ($0.03 per share) compared with net income of $9.01 million ($1.06 per share) in the fourth quarter of 2014.

On Thursday (January 28, 2016), Baker Hughes reported a 48.85% decrease in fourth quarter revenue to $3.4 billion from $6.6 billion in the same period of 2014. On GAAP basis, the Texas-based energy giant (and another one) reported a quarterly net loss of $1 billion ($2.35 per share) compared with net income of $663 million ($1.52 per share) in the fourth quarter of 2014. Its North American region revenue fell 65.59% to $1.14 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $3.30 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Chevron Corp., (NYSE: CVX), California-based energy giant, posted its first loss since the third quarter of 2002 on Friday (January 29, 2016). It reported a fourth quarter loss of $588 million ($0.31 per share), compared with $3.5 billion ($1.85 per share) in the same period of 2014. During the same period, its revenue fell 36.5% to $29.25 billion from $46.09 billion.

Below is a graph by EIA, showing how the cost of debt service for U.S. oil producers has grown since 2012. In the second quarter of 2015, more than 80% of these producers’ cash flow went to service their outstanding debt, leaving very little cash to fund operations, to pay dividends, and to invest for the future. To adjust to those pains, the producers have significantly reduced capital expenditures.

Debt service uses a rising share of U.S. onshore oil producers’ operating cash flow Source: EIA
Debt service uses a rising share of U.S. onshore oil producers’ operating cash flow
Source: EIA

During the end of Q2 2015, oil prices were around $58. It’s currently at $38. Clearly, the situation has only gotten worse.

Both Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips will report its fourth quarter earnings next week.


I believe oil prices have hit bottom and it won’t break $27 this year.

Why do I say that?

I believe the market already priced in Iran’s entry into oil war. Recently, hedge fund bearish bets on oil were at all-time high (crowded trade). Crowed trade includes: a large numbers of participants who share similar beliefs and heavy short-term bag holders (speculators). I tend to take advantage of this types of situations.

Not only bearish bets on oil are at all-time high and not only I believe Iran is already priced in, but some OPEC countries, including Nigeria and Venezuela, already started calling for emergency meetings to try to cut production. I’m starting to believe that they can no longer handle the pain. While this is a political game – to gain and preserve more market share – it won’t last long enough to get oil breaking below $27. They can no longer bluff.

For many OPEC members, operating costs are around $30. With slowing global growth, they can’t afford to have even lower oil prices.

Conclusion: Oil has hit bottom and it won’t break below $27 this year. If you disagree with me, feel free to comment below.


Speaking of junk bonds, the energy sector makes up about a fifth of the high-yield bond index. Fitch Ratings forecast the US high yield energy sector default rate to hit 11% this year, “eclipsing the 9.7% rate seen in 1999.”

According to Fitch Ratings, at the beginning of December of last year, “$98 billion of the high yield universe was bid below 50 cents, while $257 billion was bid below 80 cents. The battered energy and metals/mining sectors comprise 78% of the total bid below 50 cents. In addition, 53% percent of energy, metals/mining companies rated ‘B-‘ or lower were bid below 50 at the start of December, compared to 16% at the end of 2014, reflecting the decline in crude oil prices.”

Not only energy companies will suffer, but also banks. The biggest U.S. banks – Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase – have exposure to energy as part of their overall portfolios.

  • Morgan Stanley: Energy exposure assumed at 5% of total loans.
  • Citigroup: Energy exposure assumed at 3.3% of total loans.
  • Bank of America: Energy exposure assumed at 2.4% of total loans.
  • Goldman Sachs: Energy exposure assumed at 2.1% of total loans.
  • Wells Fargo: Energy exposure assumed at 1.9% of total loans.
  • JPMorgan Chase: Energy exposure assumed at 1.6% of total loans.

According to Fitch Ratings, exposure to energy sector were “cited as higher risk segments for the banks.”

The collapse in oil prices, strong U.S. dollar, and weakening global economy “crippled” manufacturers across the country. The Empire State manufacturing index fell to -19.4 in January from -6.2 in December, the lowest level since March 2009. The reading suggests manufacturing sector is slowing down and it raises questions about the outlook for the economy.

Manufacturing is very important to the U.S. economy. According to National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), there are 12.33 million manufacturing workers in the U.S., accounting for 9% of the nation’s workforce. Manufacturers recently contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy. “Taken alone, manufacturing in the United States would be the ninth-largest economy in the world.” according to NAM. For more facts and details, click here.

The manufacturing index have been below zero since July. Not only did the headline fell, but so did new orders index and shipments index. New orders fell 23.5 in January from -6.2 in December. Shipments fell -14.4 in January from 4.6 in December.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York
The Empire State Manufacturing Survey
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Slump in new orders can shift the production into lower gear and possibly jeopardize jobs. The employment (number of employees) index continued to deteriorate for a fifth consecutive month. The weaknesses in the Empire State indexes suggests that the earnings of manufacturers are under pressure.

According to FactSet, the S&P 500 is expected to report a Y/Y decline in earnings of 5.7% for the fourth quarter. For Q4 2015, the blended earnings decline is -5.8%. A Y/Y decline in earnings for the fourth quarter will mark the first time S&P 500 has reported three consecutive quarters of Y/Y declines in earnings since Q1 2009 through Q3 2009.

For Q1 2016, 33 companies out of S&P 500, so far, have issued negative EPS guidance and 6 companies have issued positive EPS guidance.

Another drag on earnings can be the current inventories to sales ratio. Since early 2012, the ratio has been increasing.

Total Business: Inventories to Sales Ratio Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Total Business: Inventories to Sales Ratio
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

An increasing ratio is a negative sign because it shows companies may be having trouble keeping inventories down and/or sales have slowed. If they have too much of inventories, they may have to discount the products to clear their shelves, dragging on the earnings.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and/or leave comments below. Thank you.

Sneak peek of a future article that addresses one huge risk (lack of liquidity):

“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.”

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

15 seconds and counting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a statement comparison from October to December:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Growing Monetary Policy Divergence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Emerging Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Defaults Source: WSJ
Corporate Defaults
Source: WSJ

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

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

Let IMF explain the situation in EM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Market reactions,

EUR/USD:

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

USD/JPY:

USD/JPY - Hourly
USD/JPY – Hourly

10-Year Treasury Index:

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

2-Year U.S. Treasury Note Futures:

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