A Jolly Little War

The dawn of war is a time of simple clarity and purpose.  Good guys vs. bad guys.  Cowboys vs. Indians.  Confederates vs. Yankees.  Coppers vs. robbers.  It’s a time when lines are drawn, songs are sung, and drums are beaten with gaiety and confidence.

 

A jolly little trade war – easy to win, according to the CiC [PT]

 

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Fake Work

Clarity.  Simplicity.  Elegance.  These fundamentals are all in short supply.  But are they in high demand? As far as we can tell, hardly a soul among us gives much of a rip about any of them.  Instead, nearly everyone wants things to be more muddled, more complicated, and more crude with each passing day.  That’s where the high demand is.

 

One can always meet the perils of overweening bureaucracy with pretend happiness… [PT]

 

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The Seeds of the Next Bust Are Closer to Sprouting

The price of gold was up this week, by $10 and that of silver by ¢6. Something is brewing in the fundamentals that we haven’t seen since… last year. We will show a picture of this, below.

There are many problems with assuming a rising stock market means a growing economy. We’ve written many times about the much-greater growth of debt, i.e., borrowing to consume, which adds to GDP.

 

S&P 500 Index, monthly – the huge rally since 2009 was accompanied by the weakest economic recovery of the post-WW2 era. Evidently, the stock market does not necessarily reflect economic growth. Very often numerous other factors prove to be far more important drivers of stock prices. A pertinent example is Venezuela’s soaring stock market, which is up by 88,500% in the past year alone (this is not a typo). Meanwhile, the country’s economy is contracting since 2014, with the slump accelerating to a stunning -16.5% y/y in both 2017 and 2018. The S&P 500 Index is an island of sanity by comparison, at least superficially (the ceteris are of course not paribus). [PT]

 

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Why a Chernobyl-like Financial Disaster is Inescapable

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986 – roughly 33 years ago – things went horribly wrong in the town of Pripyat, in northern Soviet Ukraine.  Reactor No. 4 at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, was overwhelmed by an uncontrolled reaction.  There was no stopping it.

 

Chernobyl after the explosion (left) and today (right), encased in a steel sarcophagus. [PT]

 

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Threats of Nuclear War

On February 26, 2019, the Indian Air Force, for the first time since 1971, conducted a raid inside Pakistan, and allegedly hit a terrorist training camp, killing more than 250 terrorists. Pakistan showed photographs of damage to a tree or two. According to Pakistani officials, no one died and no infrastructure was damaged.

 

Mirage 2000 warplane of the Indian Air Force in medias res. [PT]

Photo credit: hindustantimes.com

 

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Coffee, Milk and Gold

Last week was holiday-shorted due to Good Friday (it’s not an official holiday in the US, but it is in the UK. And this week’s report is a day late due to Easter Monday). The price of gold dropped $15, but the price of silver rose ¢4. Perhaps silver traders got word that we are paying interest on silver, which gives people a reason to hold silver? J

 

A silver bar plus interest…  [PT]

 

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Learning From Other People’s Mistakes is Cheaper

One benefit of hindsight is that it imparts a cheap superiority over the past blunders of others.  We certainly make more mistakes than we’d care to admit.  Why not look down our nose and acquire some lessons learned from the mistakes of others?

 

Bitcoin, weekly. The late 2017 peak is completely obvious in hindsight… [PT]

 

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Money Supply Growth Continues to Falter

Ostensibly the stock market has rallied because the Fed promised to maintain an easy monetary policy. To be sure, interest rate hikes have been put on hold for the time being and the balance sheet contraction (a.k.a.“quantitative tightening”) will be terminated much earlier than originally envisaged. And yet, the year-on-year growth rate of the true broad money supply keeps declining noticeably.

 

The year-on-year growth rates of US TMS-2 (broad true money supply) and the narrow money aggregate M1. Y/y growth of TMS-2 has declined to a new 12-year low as of March 2019. For some background on the calculation of TMS-2 see Michael Pollaro’s excellent summary at Forbes.

 

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Investors are Oblivious to the Market’s Downside Potential

This is a brief update on a number of sentiment/positioning indicators we have frequently discussed in these pages in the past. In this missive our focus is exclusively on indicators that are of medium to long-term relevance to prospective stock market returns. Such indicators are not really useful for the purpose of market timing –  instead they are telling us something about the likely duration and severity of the bust that will follow on the heels of the current market mania. The first chart is an update of the current situation in RYDEX funds. Despite their small size, these funds have always represented a quite accurate microcosm of general market sentiment.

 

A RYDEX overview: RYDEX money market fund assets have recently declined to new all time lows; the pure non-leveraged bull-bear fund ratio is back above 29 (i.e., bull funds assets are more then 29 times larger than bear fund assets). At the top of the tech mania in early March 2000, this ratio peaked at roughly 17. Lastly, the amount of assets in RYDEX bear funds demonstrates that bears remain extremely discouraged. It is fair to say that at this stage almost no-one expects that the market could suffer a serious slump.

 

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Is Silver Hard of Hearing?

The price of gold inched down, but the price of silver footed down (if we may be permitted a little humor that may not make sense to metric system people). For the gold-silver ratio to be this high, it means one of two things. It could be that speculators are avoiding the monetary metals and metal stackers are depressed. Or that something is going on in the economy, to drive demand for the metals in different directions.

 

As a rule the gold silver ratio acts as a proxy for credit spreads – this is attributable to the fact that silver prices are partly driven by the metal’s large industrial demand component (by contrast, the vast bulk of gold demand consists of monetary or investment demand; industrial and fabrication demand in the gold market are negligible by comparison). In the chart above we compare the gold-silver ratio to the IEF-JNK ratio, which serves as a proxy for corporate credit spreads (note: “unadjusted” means that only prices are compared, not total returns – interest payments received by holders of IEF and JNK are not included). An interesting divergence has emerged since the 2014-2016 oil patch mini-bust – while the gold-silver ratio is streaking to new highs, the IEF-JNK ratio has established a lower high in late 2018. We believe this is mainly due to the massive distortion of credit markets in the wake of the QE and ZIRP/NIRP policies pursued by the world’s largest central banks. One of these markets is wrong and it is a good bet that the market that has been manipulated by central bank interventions is the one that is giving a false signal. [PT]

 

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Unsolicited Advice to Fed Chair Powell

American businesses over the past decade have taken a most unsettling turn.  According to research from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, as of November 2018, non-financial corporate debt has grown to more than $9.1 trillion [ed note: this number refers to securitized debt and business loans, other corporate liabilities would add an additional $11 trillion for a total of $20.5 trillion].

 

US non-financial corporate debt takes flight – the post 2008 crisis trajectory is breath-taking, to say the least [PT]

 

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Boom Times Compared

It has become abundantly clear by now that the late 2018 swoon was not yet the beginning of the end of the stock market bubble – at least not right away. While money supply growth continues to decelerate, the technical underpinnings of the rally from the late December low were actually quite strong – in particular, new highs in the cumulative NYSE A/D line indicate that it was broad-based.

 

Cumulative NYSE A/D line vs. SPX – normally the A/D line tends to deteriorate before the market peaks, as the advance narrows and fewer and fewer stocks participate in the rally. This did in fact happen shortly before the early October top.

 

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