Published on April 30th 2009
Suppose you own a business and 1/3rd of your product is being bought by a single customer. What if this biggest customer tells you that as of June, he or she will stop buying? What do you do with your inventory? Exactly! You liquidate it in a fire sale! You had been selling what this biggest customer was buying, and then buying what you thought this customer would buy next. This has been precisely our thesis No. 1. As the chart below shows, after the Fed’s announcement at 2:15pm yesterday, Treasuries (long-end) sold off.
Suppose you own a business and 1/3rd of your product is being bought by a single customer. What if this biggest customer tells you that as of June, he or she will stop buying? What do you do with your inventory? Exactly! You liquidate it in a fire sale! You had been selling what this biggest customer was buying, and then buying what you thought this customer would buy next. This has been precisely our thesis No. 1. As the chart below shows, after the Fed’s announcement at 2:15pm yesterday, Treasuries (long-end) sold off. (There was also profit taking in the Agency market):
April 30th 2009, Intraday: 30-yr Treasury (white) vs. S&P500 (orange) Source: Bloomberg Analysis: Tincho's letter
The FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) expressed no change in the plans to buy $1.25 Tr of Agency mortgage-backed securities, $200 bn of Agency debt and $300 bn of Treasuries. There was also no change to the fed funds target range. At 1:22 pm, Mr.Volcker, Chairman of the newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board and Chairman of the Fed between 1979 and 1983, had said that the current administration was committed to supporting banks. I think that led the market (and me) to believe there was going to be an upsize in Fed’s Treasuries purchases and, as the chart shows, that pushed Treasuries up (for a short time). The FOMC said the economy continued to contracting, but at a slower pace (GDP -6.1% q/q annualized).
I can’t understand stocks. The S&P 500 shot up on the news, and although it ended lower, it was still +2.16% (873.64pts). Why is this hard for me to see? If the long-term (30-yr) risk-free yield rose above 4% post-FOMC and the USD fell against the Euro and the Canadian dollar (=outflow of capital), why are stocks higher? (The USD rose against the yen and Pound, but this reflects and does not explain the rise of stocks). Isn’t a risk-free 4% yield good enough? Maybe it isn’t so risk-free … To make things more interesting, Treasuries in the short-end (2- yrs) had a solid bid, steepening the curve at close. Before I continue, I must say, thesis no. 3 (proposed on Friday) was refuted yesterday (= I was wrong!). There was no announcement of an exit strategy and stocks went up. I could say that to stop buying (FOMC statement) somehow indicates the way out (exit) of this mess, but I think the Fed is only bluffing, and it will keep buying anyway…Perhaps, we may have to first look at the credit markets. The CDX IG12 index finished at 168 bps (-9bps) and the High Yield index also did well, about 2 pts up. Even the leveraged loan LCDX index rose more than 1 pt. What is this supposed to mean? Maybe the market is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps the Chrysler negotiations are positive, the distressed debt exchanges we are witnessing will really avoid defaults, perhaps the bank issuance coming outside of the FDIC-backed program (Goldman Sachs sold yesterday $2BN 6% 5-yr notes priced at T+410bps) is also a good sign. If this is the case, the market may wait for a confirmation this Friday, with the release of the ISM Manufacturing Index, before it moves anywhere (Readers’ feedback is welcome)…On this basis, I will wait until Friday, before I reject thesis No. 3. ONE LAST THOUGHT: If we are comfortable with a 4% long-term yield, with double-digit debt exchanges, with oil going higher on oversupply and stocks higher on awful news, maybe Keynes was right when he said that (refer April 28th letter): “…when output has increased and prices have risen, the effect of this on liquidity-preference will be to increase the quantity of money necessary to maintain a given rate of interest…” (General Theory, Chapter 13, published in 1936). We may indeed need more money to maintain the higher yields, to repay the double-digit maturities, a barrel of oil, Citibank shares or my morning coffee! I only hope that more money is also needed to pay your and my salary!
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Published on April 28th 2009
I thought it would be interesting to reflect not on the origins of this crisis, but on the origins of the ideas that shaped the response to this crisis. John M. Keynes’s main work was the “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”, published in 1936. Today, we only need to deal with chapter 13. This chapter is titled “The General Theory of the Rate of Interest”.
Yesterday was another forgettable session. News of the pig flu, of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair seeking authority to close “systemically important” financial firms, and of GM’s bondholders’ rejection of the $27BN debt-for-equity swap shaped a tense range trading day. The S&P500 closed -1% at 857.51pts. Treasuries had significantly dropped by noon, but managed to close up in a flight-to-safety move, driven by fears of a pig flu spreading. This same flu pushed Mexico’s credit default from 300bps to approx. 330bps. The Fed bought $7 billion in Sep/13 to Feb/16 Treasuries. Agency debt continued to tighten vs. Treasuries (1 to 2bps) and CDX IG12 finished flat, at 176bps. And we should leave things here.
While we wait for more policy decisions (FOMC meeting today and tomorrow, Fed purchase of Treasury coupons on Thursday), I thought it would be interesting to reflect not on the origins of this crisis, but on the origins of the ideas that shaped the response to this crisis. Most of you would agree that Mr. Keynes’ ideas are behind the policies being implemented these days. Therefore, let’s analyze Keynes’ thoughts on what to expect from a financial crisis.
John M. Keynes’s main work was the “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”, published in 1936. Today, we only need to deal with chapter 13. This chapter is titled “The General Theory of the Rate of Interest”.
Keynes was a very practical man. For him: “…the rate of interest is…the “price” which equilibrates the desire to hold wealth in the form of cash with the available quantity of cash…” If we follow him, at close of yesterday, the benchmark (Feb/39 Treasury) price for holding USD cash long term was 3.84% p.a.
Keynes warned that: “…circumstances can develop in which even a large increase in the quantity of money may exert a comparatively small influence on the rate of interest…” Yes, this applies to the $300BN Treasury purchase program by the Fed. I let the reader judge the degree of influence this program has had so far (1 month later) on the rate of interest.
Keynes offered an explanation for these circumstances. He wrote that: “whilst an increase in the quantity of money may be expected… to reduce the rate of interest, this will not happen if the liquidity-preferences of the public are increasing more than the quantity of money” This should be self-explanatory and consistent with the necessary conclusion from our Thesis no.1 “Sell that which the US Govt. is buying and buy that which the US Govt. will buy (Tincho’s letter, April 6th 2009)”. Keynes further added that: “…whilst a decline in the rate of interest may be expected … to increase the volume of investment, this will not happen if the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital is falling more rapidly than the rate of interest…” What is the “marginal efficiency of capital”? Basically, it is the (IRR) internal rate of return (refer Chapter 11 of the General Theory). Given a rate of discount, the IRR of a stock is driven by its dividends and final value. Since the beginning of the current crisis, dividends have been continuously cut or eliminated altogether, while stock prices have been falling. It is obvious then that the marginal efficiency of capital was falling until the current rally took place, in late February 2009. Is the marginal efficiency of capital STILL falling more rapidly than the rate of interest? I am not sure, because: a) we still ignore what level of losses the financial system may face in the future b) this ignorance means that we also have uncertainty on how expensive it will be to finance future investments c) given (a) and (b), we don’t know what the final inflation level will be, as the Fed continues to pump liquidity into a broken system. (On September 18, 2008, Goldman Sachs’ US Portfolio Strategy team published an analysis in line with Keynes’ approach. The publication suggested that the implied S&P500 trough for this crisis was at 1,000 points, consistent with a dividend yield of 2.9% for the S&P500 index).
Keynes continued his exposition saying that: “…whilst an increase in the volume of investment may be expected … to increase employment, this may not happen if the propensity to consume is falling off…” If I am right and the Obama administration is guided by these Keynesian ideas, we should therefore expect further policy from the Fed and the Treasury to address the retail credit market and the personal income tax structure, respectively, to boost consumption.
Finally, Keynes says something rather ominous: “…if employment increases, prices will rise in a degree partly governed by the shapes of the physical supply functions, and partly by the liability of the wage-unit to rise in terms of money…”. Essentially, the final rise in prices that we may expect will depend on how we address productivity issues today (i.e. physical supply functions…Will we keep wasting money on the auto sector?) and how our current politicians reshape the labour market today (i.e. contract negotiations with unions, etc. that determine the liability of the wage-unit to rise in terms of money).
The final sentence is perhaps the most relevant. Keynes wrote that “…when output has increased and prices have risen, the effect of this on liquidity-preference will be to increase the quantity of money necessary to maintain a given rate of interest…”. THIS STRONGLY SUGGESTS THAT AN EXIT STRATEGY BY THE FED MAY BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. INFLATION MAY HIGH ENOUGH FOR US TO NEED TODAY’S INCREASE IN THE QUANTITY OF MONEY TO MAINTAIN THE RATE OF INTEREST AT THE END OF THIS EXPERIMENT.
consumption,dividends,employment,exit strategy,final value,General Theory,inflation,interest rate,investment,Keynes,liquidity trap,marginal efficiency of capital,Mexico,productivity,swine flu,wage
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