Credit Market Bifurcation

By all accounts, credit markets remain on fire. 2019 is already a record year for corporate bond issuance, beating the previous record set in 2017 by a sizable margin. Demand for the debt of governments and government-related issuers remains extremely strong as well, despite non-existent and often even negative issuance yields. Even now, with economic activity clearly slowing and numerous  threats to the post-GFC recovery looming on the horizon, the occasional rise in credit spreads is routinely reversed. And yet, under the placid surface problems are beginning to percolate. Consider exhibit A:

 

The chart shows option-adjusted credit spreads on three rating categories – while spreads on ‘BB’ rated (best junk bond grade) and ‘BBB’ rated (weakest investment grade) bonds remain close to their lows, spreads on ‘CCC’ rated bonds continue to break higher – considerably so. An increase by 473 basis points from their late 2018 low indicates there is quite a bit of concern.

 

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Poland’s Gold and the Conspiracy Theorists

The price of gold was up enough to buy a bottle of Two Buck Chuck wine, and the price of silver was up enough to buy a wooden nickel (well, not enough to buy a real nickel nickel).

 

Poland’s gold bars are packaged by employees of G4S International Logistics to be transported from London to Poland. Poland’s gold was originally transferred to London at the beginning of WW II, when Stalin and Hitler invaded and partitioned the country in the late 1930s. For some reason Poland’s post-war communist government left it there – presumably because it was easier to sell in London. [PT]

Photo credit: G4SI

 

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The Bubble Machine

The launch angle of the U.S. stock market over the past decade has been steep and relentless. The S&P 500, after bottoming out at 666 on March 6, 2009, has rocketed up over 370 percent. New highs continue to be reached practically every day.

 

S&P 500 weekly, since the low of 2009. A party of roaring 20s proportion in terms of duration, extent and end point valuations (a post-war inflation episode triggered a devastating bear market from November 1919 to August 1921, in which the DJIA fell from ~120 to ~64 points. It then rose until early September 1929, topping at ~380 points. By the time it peaked, Wall Street had created all sorts of new-fangled instruments such as the then highly popular investment trusts, everybody was speculating on margin and the equivalent of today’s FANGs such as RCA (“Radio”) traded at previously unheard of multiples – as did the rest of the market. Numerous sharp corrections along the way had eradicated the perception of risk in investors’ minds. We have discussed the parallels between the two eras before, and in the meantime another parallel can be discerned in the charts. In late 1928 the market suffered a sharp sell-off in the normally seasonally strong period, very similar to what occurred in 2018. It was the biggest correction of the entire bull market, but the market swiftly rallied again and by February 1929 it made new highs. It then proceeded to build a chart formation known as “three peaks and a domed house”. The three peaks of 2019 are not a perfect replica of the basic schematic of the formation, but the timing is in line with it (they are supposed to be established within 6-10 months). George Lindsay’s original schematic is very detailed, it is therefore unlikely that the pattern will repeat perfectly every time. The so-called domed house can take up to 7 months to form, but we would focus on the shape rather than the precise duration. Whether the formation does indeed form remains to be seen. It is definitely something worth keeping an eye on. [PT]

 

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Misguided Incentives

The price of gold subsided a few bucks, and the price of silver blipped a few pennies. Not much action last week, groceries neither pumped into nor drained out of this asset class. Those who look to exchange capital goods for groceries need to find a different asset.

 

The best-laid plans… [PT]

 

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Monetary Lunacy, Nipponese Version

Earlier this month, Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda commented that Japan’s central planners are considering a 50-year government bond issue as a long-term means of putting a floor under super-long interest rates.  How this floor would be placed is extremely suspect; we will have more on this in a moment.  But first, the dual benefits – according to Japan’s central planners…

 

Kuroda-san: the man with a plan, or rather, a plethora of plans (過剰な計画). [PT]

 

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Incrementum Advisory Board Discussion of 23 Oct 2019

In late October the Advisory Board of the Incrementum Fund held its quarterly meeting (a transcript is available for download at the end of this post). This time the board was joined by special guest Dan Oliver, the manager of Myrmikan Capital and president of the Committee for Monetary Research & Education.  Myrmikan inter alia publishes excellent and quite original research on gold which we hereby highly recommend.

 

Dan Oliver of Myrmikan Capital

 

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Yields and the “Everything Bubble”

Last week the price of gold was up $9, and the price of silver was up $0.18.

This week, our thought turns to a cherished old saw. Gold bugs often tell us that the purchasing power of gold is constant. An ounce of gold could have purchased, they say, a fine toga in Roman times. Just as it could buy a fine suit today.

 

This magnificent toga will set you back an ounce, pilgrim. Just think of the impression you’ll make. [PT]

 

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Prettifying Toxic Waste

The promise of something for nothing is always an enticing proposition. Who doesn’t want roses without thorns, rainbows without rain, and salvation without repentance?  So, too, who doesn’t want a few extra basis points of yield above the 10-year Treasury note at no added risk?

 

The yield-chasing hamster wheel… [PT]

 

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Fun and Regret Ex Nihilo

The price of gold dropped last week, but not calamitously. From $1514 to $1459, or -$55. The price of silver dropped. Calamitously. From $18.08 to $16.75, or -$1.33. -3.6% vs -7.4%. Once again, silver proves to be volatile relative to gold.

 

Silver jumped off a cliff again last week – the chart formation nevertheless continues to look corrective. [PT]

 

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Beta-driven Fantasy

The decade long bull market run, aside from making everyone ridiculously rich, has opened up a new array of competencies. The proliferation of ETFs, for instance, has precipitated a heyday for the ETF Analyst. So, too, blind faith in data has prompted the rise of Psychic Quants… who see the future by modeling the past.

 

Gandalf, quant of Middle-Earth, dispensing sage advice. [PT]

 

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Two Interesting Recent P&P Interviews

Our friend Maurice Jackson of Proven and Probable has recently conducted two interviews which we believe will be of interest to our readers. The first interview  is with Brien Lundin, the president of Jefferson Financial, host of the famed New Orleans Investment Conference and publisher & editor of the Gold Newsletter – an investment newsletter that has been around for almost five decades, which actually makes it the longest-running US-based investment newsletter focused on precious metals. Its staying power speaks for itself.

 

Brien Lundin speaking at the 2012 New Orleans Investment Conference.

 

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Everybody Has a Plan

Not too long ago, we wrote about the so called Modern Monetary so called Theory (MMT). It is not modern, and it is not a theory. We called it a cargo cult. You’d think that everyone would know that donning fake headphones made of coconut shells, and waving tiki torches will not summon airplanes loaded with cargo. At least the people who believe in this have the excuse of being illiterate.

 

A few images documenting cargo cults on the island of Vanuatu. Left: a wooden plane made by the John Frum cargo cult, which is going strong to this day and has actually become a political party. In the middle is a ceremonial cross erected by the John Frum cargo cult. According to one of the cult’s leaders, its members consider John Frum their Jesus whom they expect to return one day (with a big load of cargo). Even funnier are the guys to the right, who belong to a different Vanuatu-based cargo cult, the Prince Philip Movement, which worships the Duke of Edinburgh whom it considers a divine being. Apparently members of the Yaohnanen tribe in Tanna saw how much respect was paid to Queen Elizabeth during her visits to the island and concluded that her consort had to be a being from their legends, the son of a mountain spirit and a “brother to John Frum”, who is also widely expected to return one day (with cargo). Prince Philip was long unaware that he is revered as a god, but since he has learned about it, he frequently exchanges gifts with the movement (he usually sends them signed photographs of himself, and they send things like traditional pig-killing clubs and other useful implements in return). What the members of the John Frum and Prince Philip cults don’t know: they clearly have what it takes to become modern-day mainstream economists. A second career path is open to them. Your cargo awaits, brothers! [PT]

 

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