Guest post by Peter Tchir.
State of the High Yield Market
The ETF’s and Closed End Funds are attracting a lot of attention. Redemptions and poor performance in the past few days have caught a lot of people’s attention. It also sounds like it is hitting traditional mutual funds. It is worth looking at.
Unmitigated Disaster in Closed End Funds
Here is the craziest closed end fund I know of. The PHK fund was down 26% since its peak but still trades at a premium of 27%. I have never understood why people pay such a premium for a fixed income fund, and never will. To me it is completely irrelevant what this fund does, except as a sentiment for the least thoughtful retail investors. We saw steep declines in other closed end funds. Most had been trading at premium and are back to about intrinsic value. With the leverage they use and small market cap I rarely follow them, but the size of the move is worth looking at.
Even the leveraged loan closed end funds got hit hard. They are still at a premium but seeing drops of 3% to 5%. That is far in excess of the two day drop of BKLN which has had a 1% drop. The leverage and premium explain a lot of that additional drop.
A few points on risk and size by Golem XIV.
People always say Follow the Money. You might do better to Follow the Risk.
Risk is the pollution created by the process of making money. So where you find people making one you will surely find them hiding the other. You’ll find both at the banks.
Banks have managed to convince the regulatory authorities – their regulatory authorities, and I use the word ‘their’ advisedly – to convinced them to count the creation and storing of risk as part of the banks contribution to the nation’s GDP. I wrote about how our governments count risk creation and storage of as part of the bank’s GVA (Gross Value Added) in What the Banks Contribute to GDP. Our government’s reasoning is that risk is an unavoidable by-product of the financial industry so the industry should get credit for dealing with the stuff. But imagine counting the creation and storage of radioactive waste as part of the value added of the nuclear industry? Would it not seem perverse to celebrate increases in the amount of waste being stored and see it as evidence of what a wonderful industry it was, rather than ask why they produced so much in the first place? Would it not seem odd to talk glowingly (sorry) of the increases in radiation levels being stored, and reward the industry accordingly, rather than ask if there might not be a safer, less radioactive way of generating power? It seems to me this is the situation we are in with banking.
Guest post by Vix and more. Given all the drama in the euro zone, not to mention the fiscal cliff, the various difficulties in China, continued unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, etc. it is more than a little surprising that the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has failed to trade above 30.00 this year.
In fact, with a maximum VIX of just 27.73 for the year, 2012 could mark the first time in 15 years (if one excludes the great Greenspan liquidity bubble from 2004 – 2006) that the VIX has not made it out of the twenties.
How does 27.73 compare as an annual high in the VIX? Since 1990, the mean high in the VIX has been 37.90 (inflated somewhat by the 2008 high of 89.53), while the median high VIX has still been a reasonably lofty 35.93.
This is not to suggest that the markets have been mispricing SPX options (and therefore the VIX) for most of 2012, only to note that there are certainly quite a few chapters remaining in the European sovereign debt crisis and the fiscal cliff drama, several of which will unfold before the year is over.
Market comments by Hussman of Hussman Funds.
In recent weeks, market conditions have fallen into a cluster of historical instances that have been associated with average market losses approaching -50% at an annualized rate. Of course, such conditions don’t generally persist for more than several weeks – the general outcome is a hard initial decline and then a transition to a less severe average rate of market weakness (the word “average” is important as the individual outcomes certainly aren’t uniformly negative on a week-to-week basis). Last week, our estimates of prospective market return/risk improved slightly, to a level that has historically been associated with market losses at an annualized rate of about -30%. Though that improvement falls into the category of a distinction without a difference, at least we can say that conditions are not the most negative on record.
Over the course of the coming cycle, I expect that we will easily observe conditions among the many favorable clusters in the historical record, where we will not face the syndromes of hostile conditions we’ve seen recently (e.g. overvalued, overbought, overbullish, yields rising). Valuations, though rich, are nowhere near where they were in 2000, and even the tepid valuations of early 2003 provided ample opportunity to accept market risk without the need for significant hedging. Unlike 2009, the next cycle will not unexpectedly present us with the need to capture Depression-era data in our approach (which we’ve addressed). Even without significant undervaluation, there are many combinations of market conditions that have historically been associated with strong subsequent market returns, on average.
So there’s little doubt that market conditions will provide investors with a strong basis to accept risk at various points over the coming market cycle. The difficulty today is not only that valuations are rich, but that on our metrics, present market conditions cluster among those that have produced strikingly negative market outcomes on a blended horizon from 2-weeks to 18-months. Wall Street’s beloved forward-earnings multiples only seem reasonable here because profit margins are the highest in history (largely as a result of steep government deficits and depressed savings rates). Once we normalize for profit margins – which is necessary because stocks are very long-lived assets – valuations are elevated, and are coupled with a variety of historically hostile, overvalued, overbought indicator syndromes. Moreover, while our economic concerns do not significantly feed into our concerns about the equity market, we continue to view the U.S. economy as being in an unrecognized recession that started about mid-year.
The European debt crisis explained: The debt levels around the globe are unprecedented in peacetime. The odds of restructurings and/or defaults are higher than most believe. When does debt become unsustainable? Good reminder video from last year.
Guest post by Peter Tchir.
I have clearly had another change in sentiment on the outlook for assets in Europe. At the height of the crisis I was an unabashed bull. The timing of this Bloomberg TV interview couldn’t have been better, but in general the bull case was based on 3 things
· Not doing anything was risking catastrophe and a Eurozone wide banking run, followed by a freeze in economic activity
· That the Spanish bank bailout deal would progress and had been designed to get banks up and running in a timely manner
· Prices already reflected much of the risk and little of the upside
From the moment of the “whatever it takes” speech, where Draghi clearly answered my How Dumb is Draghi question, European markets rallied.
The Spanish bank bailout seemed to be running slower than I would have liked, nothing was getting done in Greece, but at least Draghi seemed determined to follow up on his promise (or threat if you were short). His first ECB after the big pronouncement was a bit of a dud, but he said enough to keep the markets happy.
Must read on the doomsday cycle. Via Voxeu.
Industrialised countries today face serious risks – for their financial sectors, for their public finances, and for their growth prospects. This column explains how, through our financial systems, we have created enormous, complex financial structures that can inflict tragic consequences with failure and yet are inherently difficult to regulate and control. It explains how this has happened and why there are more and worse crises to come.There is a common problem underlying the economic troubles of Europe, Japan, and the US: the symbiotic relationship between politicians who heed narrow interests and the growth of a financial sector that has become increasingly opaque (Igan and Mishra 2011). Bailouts have encouraged reckless behaviour in the financial sector, which builds up further risks – and will lead to another round of shocks, collapses, and bailouts.
This is what we have called the ‘doomsday cycle’ (Boone and Johnson 2010). The cycle turned in 2007-8 and was most dramatically manifest in the weeks and months that followed the fall of Lehman Brothers, the collapse of Iceland’s banks and the botched ‘rescue’ of the big three Irish financial institutions.
The consequences have included sovereign debt restructuring by Greece, as well as continuing problems – and lending programmes by the IMF and the EU – for Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Italy, Spain and other parts of the Eurozone remain under intense pressure.
Yet in some circles, there is a sense that the countries of the Eurozone have put the worst of their problems behind them. Following a string of summits, it is argued, Europe is now more decisively on the path to a unified financial system backed by what will become the substance of a fiscal union.
Summary: This paper presents a simple heuristic measure of tail risk, which is applied to individual bank stress tests and to public debt. Stress testing can be seen as a first order test of the level of potential negative outcomes in response to tail shocks. However, the results of stress testing can be misleading in the presence of model error and the uncertainty attending parameters and their estimation. The heuristic can be seen as a second order stress test to detect nonlinearities in the tails that can lead to fragility, i.e., provide additional information on the robustness of stress tests. It also shows how the measure can be used to assess the robustness of public debt forecasts, an important issue in many countries. The heuristic measure outlined here can be used in a variety of situations to ascertain an ordinal ranking of fragility to tail risks.
Full paper here.
Good interviews with Keith Fitz-Gerald on black swans, mispricing of risk and much more.
“If you’re rich you get a bailout. If you’re poor you get a handout. And if you’re middle class you get left out. ” That’s not a sustainable way to run the system, exclaims investment strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald.
A cancer at the core of our current economy is the magical thinking, “no pain, all gain” philosophy, pursued by those running it. They are doing all they can to remove the consequences of failure from the system — blind to failure’s essential ‘waste-clearing’ function in a healthy free market.
Full interview click here.