Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The diary of a messed up market day.

Well. Well Well. Or ‘three holes in the ground”, as my uncle used to say. That was a day.

The last two weeks have so far seen

Meltdown Monday
Turnaround Tuesday
We'll be OK Wednesday
Thumped Thursday
Found a base Friday
Make up your mind Monday
Trying Hard Tuesday

and today?
WTF Wednesday

I have to say that today was a hero to zero day for me in equity land. I played the CPI figure perfectly as stocks decided that the inflation story really. really is a concern. Until it isn't. And that ‘until it isn’t’ occurred about 15 seconds after maximum 'it is a really, really big concern'. That was when perfection vanished in a puff of humility and the ‘natural bounce up off the lows'  spent the rest of the day grinding higher up to new highs.

I am not too shy to own up to the stock shorts costing me money. I hate grinds, they are worse than sharp moves mostly because sharp moves engulf your emotions in one hit, whilst grinds tie you naked to a chair and beat your bits with a knotted rope until you are finally put out of your misery by the pistol to the head of a stop loss.

I think I might have been watching too much McMafia. Actually, that James Bond and Le Chiffre reference stemmed from a picture I saw of Macron in a Bloomberg article this morning and it just struck me how much Macron looked like Le Chiffre from Bond’s latest Casino Royale.

But I JUST KNOW that  US stocks will now tank. But if I don't understand why equities are going up then I must get out. Understand? That where your narrative fits whatever it is you want it to fit, but unless someone takes a 3ft pipe bending machine to the current narrative of ‘it’s inflayshun innit’ to make it fit with today’s moves then I am afraid this narrative is broken

We are getting through narratives faster than plates at a Greek restaurant.

I fell for that inflation one I really did. I even thought about what would do well in an inflationary world and thought.. hmm stocks could do well in an inflationary world because they hold tangible assets that are inflating so the value of them must go up against a deflating USD. Unless they own large amounts of debt and the cost of funding that goes up faster than the inflating asset values. I then thought this is getting complicated as I'll need to know the debt levels of the companies and if they are fixed or floating against which benchmarks and which currencies and where their manufacturing vs sales is and and ...  and then I stopped. It was all too much.

I'd wandered into this because my favourite dodgy high beta oil stocks that went to cash like everything else on the 12th Jan, might be worth buying again as I think we might be near the end of the oil dump. Have you noticed how correlated it is to SPX price moves?

But the problem with my dodgy oil stocks is that they have large loads of debt and funding that, relative to where rates were a month ago, would mean that oil will have to be a lot higher than its last recent peak. So I haven't bought them. I just bought oil instead. It’s always worth remembering that if you think something is going to go up or down, instead of getting clever with correlated stuff, just buy or sell the thing you think will go up or down. For example, with oil, don’t mess around with NOK/JPY FX thinking you are being clever, just buy oil.

The only consolation was a ‘that doesn't look right' enlarging of my long gold positions in the low 1320s and I did buy gold mining stocks, including some very dodgy ones. I even bought an ETF of gold miners (an ETF? In this environment? Are you mad?). It would be great if someone could inform all the goldbug loons of yesteryear, who took their evangelistic crusade to crypto-land, to come back because their one true Messiah is risen again. I never thought I'd miss them but we should point out that burying your gold coins in the backyard of your log cabin leaves your assets a little more accessible than down a phone wire that those pesky government agents, who you are sure you saw spying on you in the woods, could cut.

So that's been my day. I have ended it by kicking myself for not standing true to my initial beliefs that led me to eject all my positions in mid-January ahead of Martin Luther Turn Day. as defined in my post 4 days ago. 

1- Markets take off in January en masse in the direction set by all those ‘2018 trades of the year’. This sets consensus.
2- The week after Martin Luther King day, or Martin Luther Turn Day as I prefer to call it, together with the first expires, can often trigger a turnaround.
3- The start of February sees a peak crisis in something - EM, Bank Balance sheets, whatever.
4- This causes first round damage in the assets associated with the assumed crisis.
5- This causes losses which need countering by selling other assets that are in profit
6- This sees a cascade unwind in anything that is leveraged and heavily positioned.
7- Narratives chase price moves but are usually later proven to be incorrect.
8- These February washouts of the consensus trades of the year slowly settle down and reverse, leaving March as the time to really put on your trades of the year.

Good luck out there, I've had as much adrenaline as I can take for a fortnight. It made the skiing holiday look tame.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Vol up!

Apologies to Cameo for busting apart their "Word Up'

Yo option traders around the world
Got a weird thing to show you
So tell all the sales and the clients
Tell your bosses, your brokers and risk manager too
'Cause we're about to go down
And you know just what to do
Wave your hands in the air like you actually care
Shout 'delta' and 'vega' as they start to look and stare.
Do your dance, do your dance, do your dance hedging gamma
Come on baby tell me, what's the vol

Vol's up! Everybody says
When you sell the call and the put you've got short vol all the way
Vol's up - it's the VIX word
No matter how you hedge it, you want to use the F word

Now all you sucker VIX sellers who think it's a fly
There's a reason they’re so complex and we know the reason why
Why you put on those shorts and you act real cool
Got to realize that you're acting like fools
If there’s profit we abuse it
Your ETNs are pants
You’ll lose your shirt every time, we know that in advance
They're just pants, they're just pants, they're just pants bleeding gamma
Come on dummy, sell me all that vol

Vol's up! It's end of days
When you hear the puts are offered, you know it's CTAs

Dial V for Vol, Dial V for VIX, Dial 911 for help
Vol up, Vol up, Vol up, Vol up

Yeh you sucker XIV buyers who think you're fly
There's got to be a reason and we know the reason why
Why you buy this toxic waste and you act real cool
Got to realize that you're acting like fools
We give you premium in advance.
But we lie and say your profits, this crap will sure enhance
Won’t Enhance, won’t enhance, won’t enhance, only stuff your gamma
Come on baby buy my inverse vol.

Vol's up, making commentators days
When you hear it on TV, all you can do is pray.
Vol's up! It's the news word
No matter how you hedge it, you know you own a turd

Saturday, 10 February 2018

What happens next? The great global risk repricing.

Following swiftly on from the last post's synopsis of the changing narratives of last week, in the famous words of a UK TV sports quiz show, it's time for "What happen's next"? When a clip is shown and the contestants have to guess the, normally unlikely, outcome.

The clip shows US equities falling over, bashing heir head and looking dead only to spasm as we freeze the frame. So .. what happens next?

Friday felt like fear but the rally into the close makes this all the harder to call as both camps have ammunition.

For the bounce -

Nothing has really changed, the US economy is doing well, indeed it’s very success is what has triggered this fall.

Company earnings are booming and are not going to fall. In fact dividend yield on stocks has just gone up 10% due to the price drop. Thank you.

We needed a healthy correction. That was it. The weak holders are now out and will no doubt be sucked in slowly as prices rise again pushing them up further. Effectively we have more marginal buyers wanting to get back on the bus now they have been thrown off.

It isn't that bad, we are only back to last Noveber prices.

Why should overseas investors in overseas stocks be concerned about domestic US inflation? European investors in European stocks, where the ECB is still slow to drain liquidity, should see more reason to buy.

The size of that fall and the way it worked over the last two days saw the market move from 'unconcerned' to 'doubtful' to 'fear', only to see everything rebound into the close on Friday. We are done.

It was indeed just a volatility blow out, the ripples are settling.

It was a typical February positional wash out across all asset classes, hanging on an excuse of the labour data that tripped some ridiculous leverage in silly products. Over positioning of the year favorites has been rationalised and we can get on with it all again.

And for the trouble ahead -

It ain’t over until the fat cow squeals. the fat cow being the sacred cow position of short US treasuries.

If USTreasuies because what I saw as fear on Friday isn’t anywhere near fear yet and we are still in a complacent mode. this complacency can be reflected in headlines I saw on Friday saying we had ‘entered a corrective phase’ #. Entered a corrective phase? we entered a corrective phase two weeks ago! The sign should say; “Thank you for visiting corrective phase, only 2 days to meltdown, drive safely!"

Volatility lingers - from my last post on the last two week's action

One of the consequences of measures of volatility moving is that it affects how much leverage you can have in your portfolio. The lower the volatility in an asset the lower the assumption of risk in holding it. Value at Risk, or VaR models, dominate bank, traditional fund and, most importantly, algorithmic funds. When the number you use as a volatility input increase you have to reduce your holdings even if you still consider your base argument for holding them valid. It depends on the time frame of allocations, these can be instant in high-frequency models, to monthly for old-fashioned real money to really slow with retail. Value and volatility shocks linger in the darkest crevasses of portfolio management for ages. It's like oil on beaches after tanker spills.

That US Stocks are only back to where they were in November, meaning that losses for many are only lost profits not losses versus original investment, can be read as suggesting that many are still long.  I know this is nitpicking for mark to market, especially with a year-end real in between, but for retail it’s a psychological 'get out of jail' card. You can bet that every IFA out here is telling their clients not to worry. Probably because they haven’t yet worked out the reason to sell. This is a tell that there are many trapped longs out there praying for buyers to come back in.

But who? Real money funds have not liquidated on this and are probably as caught as retail. yet they have been sitting off record loads of cash so what are they going to spend to buy with. the wall of retail certainty will have dried up too. Of course, we will have the ‘just a dip’ buyers return but that doesn't mean it’s over. As we saw last Tuesday, buying dips and seeing a run-up doesn't mean you are right.

If this really is a US inflation story then why indeed are global stocks melting? The case for buying says that if this is US Centric that we need not fear in rest of the world. But the corollary is that as everyone else assets are dumping then this is not US-centric and the narrative is wrong.

The inflation story may just be the next narrative that will be questioned and thrown away as greater fear of unknown emerges.

This has become a global risk sell-off for equities and has started to become a general risk sell-off, but rather than looking at my usual ‘February, favourite trade squeeze’ what if this is something else?

What I am suggesting -

My best case is that no narrative can be ignored and all have their strengths.  But instead of them each being a separate diagnosis of different potential diseases they are all symptoms of a single greater one. They are all building into a great big superstorm of grief encapsulated in a super-narrative

Inflation, corrections, aspike in volatility (really an increased cost of insurance), problems in leverage, US bonds, problems in risk parity, China sell-offs, Junk bonds sell off, aren’t all separate but are all part of the same single story - the new super-narrative of ‘The great global risk repricing'

A sudden spasm of awakening to true risks may now be underway.  For years we have been saying that credit is too cheap and that junk bonds are way too expensive and that leverage has been practically free. I hate to hark back to QE, as we know that it has spawned a rash of ridiculous pricing, but this, folks, could be the big one with regards to waking up and smelling the coffee. Free money does not mean any risk.

This reassessment of risk perceptions can also include US Treasuries. If there is a chance that they are no longer the ultimate safe haven then the schism would have dire consequences for the stability of current investment theory. No, I am not saying that US Treasuries aren’t safe as houses, I am saying that all you have to have is people questioning them for problems to kick off as soon as Monday.

And that is why waiting for bonds to go up to know if this is over is all the more important, If they don’t then it is really bad news.

Currencies have worn this move fairly well. Yes, they have moved with the classics like AUDJPY doing the risk off thing, but considering the size of the equity moves they are hanging on in there. Most notably,  the popular position of short USD hasn't really seen much of an unwind but it should be consdiered as part of the short UST trade. This is not about rate differentials anymore, as we have seen the divergence of rate difererentials vs FX widen for the pat few months, but about underlying trust in the US to manage its affairs. It's part of the risk adjustment as the US and US has moved a notch right along the scale between Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

So what do we do? the trader in me wanted to buy on Friday, so i did, but the pragmatist thinks this is far from over.

I will run my long with a trailing stop ready for part 2 as so far that may have only been part 1.i and 1.ii.

I can't help but think that gold is looking exceedingly attractive.

The changing narratives of a market dump.

It’s February and I have been using Twitter more than the blog as, in effect, most of my thoughts are pretty simple and don’t need expounding but it is probably worth pulling everything together for the record and to evaluate the 'what happens next'

As regular readers know I have a regular concern about the way markets start new years, which can effectively be summarised

1- Markets take off in January en masse in the direction set by all those ‘2018 trades of the year’. This sets consensus.
2- The week after Martin Luther King day, or Martin Luther Turn Day as I prefer to call it, together with the first expires, can often trigger a turnaround.
3- The start of February sees a peak crisis in something - EM, Bank Balance sheets, whatever.
4- This causes first round damage in the assets associated with the assumed crisis.
5- This causes losses which need countering by selling other assets that are in profit
6- This sees a cascade unwind in anything that is leveraged and heavily positioned.
7- Narratives chase price moves but are usually later proven to be incorrect.
8- These February washouts of the consensus trades of the year slowly settle down and reverse, leaving March as the time to really put on your trades of the year.

With this in mind, I approached the third week of January with huge caution, switching holdings to cash, but Martin Luther Turn Day came and annoyingly it didn’t produce the falls, which was FOMO painful. However, month-end was looming and it wasn’t hard to calculate that, with bonds having fallen and equities have risen so much, rebalancing of assets in funds was going to see some very large selling of equities and buying of bonds.

The large size of equity selling occurred in the days running up to the end of the month but there didn’t appear to be the bond buying. However, the narrative of ‘just month end’ still accommodated the equity move leaving those long excused from their positions.

But the 'end of month’ narrative had an expiry date - the end of the month - and though this had passed we saw no bounce in stocks and the amplitude of intraday swings in equity prices was picking up (normally a turn signal).

Friday morning had me scratching my head as to why traded volatility wasn’t rising

We didn’t have to wait long. The US data showed a growth in wages. This flickered like a force 4 tremor on the seismometers along the San Andreas fault of inflation concerns. Bonds sold off again and stocks fell heavily, with inflation concerns triggering ‘just stop losses’ as the inflation story had been a back-burner narrative for a while. However, we know that ‘just stop losses’ is on a par with quoting Fibonacci levels in the league of ignorance of real reason.

With both bonds and equities lower, attention turned to the 'risk parity' sector with it now being blamed for the stop loss action. Risk parity funds switch between bonds and equities as historically when one falls the other rises, hence keeping risk levels constant, but now we had bonds and equities falling sharply. So, it was assumed, it must have been them. Even volatility was polite enough to move with VIX a whole point and a half up from 13.5 to 15.

Now a quick brief here to anyone reading this who is scratching their heads over what this volatility product thing is. Experts, please jump this.

Volatility is a mathematical measure of how fast and far a price moves. It is a historic measure as you need to know how far and fast something has moved to work out how far and fast it has moved.
But volatility is also the key ingredient to pricing an insurance policy. If you know how far and fast something has moved in the past you make ASSUMPTIONS as to how far and fast it will move in the future. This assumed future volatility, though psychologically referenced through price anchoring to past volatility is basically an informed guess.
The maths used to calculate insurance policies or options as we like to call them in finance, the Black-Scholes model, can pin down every variable (Exercise price, forward prices, interest rates, discount rates, time, etc) but there is always an unknown variable (otherwise we are saying the future is certain) and this unknown variable all boils down to one number called 'implied volatility’. And this is what is traded in options markets. 
The word ‘implied' should be the clue to the danger here because as this is the only effective unknown the equation, should the price of the option change, even though basic demand (say a corporate wants to hedge a large overseas future payment) then the implied volatility changes too. This does not mean that actual price volatility of the underlying asset will change even though the implied volatility has. Nor does it mean that, as volatility is so closely linked to implied probability in the equations, that any actual probabilities have changed. 
Basically, it may IMPLY that probabilities have changed but it doesn't mean they actually have. It is worth comparing this to CDS pricing where the same calculations are made as it too is an insurance product, where many confuse CDS prices with the actual probability of default.
So with this in mind we look at the next derivative of implied volatility - which we have already decided is a derivative of the maths of guessing where prices will be in the future - the VIX. This is an index of lots of specific implied volatilities from lots of different assets in different time frames. If you think it is simple then just look here to correct that view. Yet this index is bet upon in its pure form through a futures market and as soon as something can be bet upon as a future it is assumed to be clean and pure. As this future can be bought and sold and held in a portfolio the dangerous next step is to consider it as an asset rather than the complex hypothetical maths derivate of the future unknown that it actually is.
As this comfort grows funds are structured to hold these futures in ETFs and ETNs. and if the movement in these ends seems pretty small they are geared up by leverage to multiple factors in specialist ETFs. Finally, a product is offered a product that goes up when implied the VIX goes down - the XIV (as in VIX reversed, not the French king Louis XIV, though they both suffered excruciatingly painful deaths). 
As stock prices had been rising strongly for a year demand for hedges against them falling had dropped. And so implied volatility fell too. (I won't get on to the asymmetric behaviour of volatility but it is worth bearing in mind that historic volatility can be as high on strong up moves as it can be on down, but the way people associate implied volatility is that it goes up on price falls). 
This created a trend which was observed as an trend in a true asset and was sold as such. As soon as past performance can be cited as a reason to buy then a dangerous feedback loop evolves (see Bitcoin). Money poured into the trend with very little idea of what was actually being bought, indeed funds themselves started to sell volatility to increase there own performance having missed out on the stock moves. 
We even saw people study these products with technical analysis like an asset, adding trend lines, oversold/overbought lines and Fibonacci levels (see above) to it. The distance they had stretched from the reality of what drove these things had reached parsec levels. But it had already established itself as a legitimate hedging tool and had become embedded in countless financial products and bank and fund positions.   

So what happened?

Monday saw the dormant VIX crack as leveraged trades in toxic products cascaded down the tree of hedges into ‘have to sell stocks’ which just pushed up volatility making it all worse.Volatility skyrocketed, both implied and actual. I am not going to quote a number it hit because different time frames have different values and I could just pick, as the press does, the most impressive. They were already performing statistical crimes by reporting that volatility had gone up 100% when it had gone up from 14% to 28% (that's up 14%).

Even with this massive 10% move in stocks the narrative of explanation was still not concerned that this was anything to worry about in the longer term. It had moved from 'just month end', through 'just stops on wage data' to 'just an explosion in mad dog leveraged lunatic esoteric products'.

Which is somewhat ironic as on this basis it would be clear that the crash had been caused by everything that posts 2008 enforced regulations and been put in place to rid us of - ridiculous leverage in products that are toxic, bought by punters who have no clue and sold by spivs who point at past performance to sell them. It was textbook.

Tuesday saw the ‘volocaust’ settle down as volatility products were now the assumed culprit and this wasn’t a reason to sell global risk. But even though VIX, which was by now as keenly watched for direction as stocks themselves (another example of the tail wagging the dog). A rally in stocks was assumed to be great news that everything was settling down and the 'volocaust' was passing, but massive moves up in the underlying asset can be as representative of chaos in a volatility market as much as down, as delta hedges in the underlying get more desperate. A rapid up move did not mean volatility was falling even if implied volatility was.

Global assets were now wobbling. If this was indeed just an esoteric product wobble then why on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning did Chinese and Japanese stocks put in such a battering? Moves like that in China, without anything else to look at, would normally of themselves because for a mini global rout (2015) but these were being studiously ignored.

Wednesday saw rallies, which made my China theory look iffy and reinforced the 'it's just vol' story - until the close, which was dreadful. Stocks were being dumped again.

One of the consequences of measures of volatility moving is that it affects how much leverage you can have in your portfolio. The lower the volatility in an asset the lower the assumption of risk in holding it. Value at Risk, or VaR models, dominate bank, traditional fund and, most importantly, algorithmic funds. When the number you use as a volatility input increase you have to reduce your holdings even if you still consider your base argument for holding them valid. It depends on the time frame of allocations, these can be instant in high-frequency models, to monthly for old-fashioned real money to really slow with retail. Value and volatility shocks linger in the darkest crevasses of portfolio management for ages. It's like oil on beaches after tanker spills.

Thursday saw another leg downwards as things were now starting to look global. China was still steadily falling, FTSE was now down 10% off the highs, the DAX was in serious trouble (the darling of the ‘euro-uber-alles' trade) and it was all starting to look as though we had a big mismatch between action and explanation. When that occurs things get really messy. Not understanding why something unpleasant is happening is the gasoline on the fire of fear.

Friday was interesting. What appeared to be fear emerged properly with even the 'just a healthy correction’ crowd looking a bit like the Monty Python Black Knight, yet the markets bounced into the close. There was no new news. Price is news (PIN).


Stepping back from all of the micro of the week, we could fit all of the above into the classic layout of the original 8 steps of a February wash out. It starts as a US concern, has accelerated and is now hitting global risk appetite with apparently dissociated assets in far off places being sold.

‘Inflation' may now be sprawled in colour on the billboard outside the cinema but inside the show is a classic black and white blow out of consensus trades.

The big what 'happens next? ' I'll ponder over in the next post "What happens next? The great global risk repricing." (Now posted here) but I am far from sure that this is over.

But before I go I’m going to be a bit unkind. But it does need to be said. There a lot of people out there who pride themselves on analysing the minutia of finance, looking for clues as to the next nuance of price moves or the odd basis point arb between trades, or clever sector switches, or curve trades. So it is with an evil gloat I see their detailed embroidery get burnt up in the house fire caused by the gallon of gasoline left in the oven that they failed to spot. At the end of the financial day, you are judged on PnL not PhD

Friday, 22 September 2017

Cash is oversold.

If I was selling a trade idea I would be now composing lots of arguments as to why I am getting really nervous about the markets. But I can’t. Call it a trader's instinct or some unexplainable subconscious human pattern recognition, but I am nervous about the markets. To the point that I have started shutting down long-term positions, even my long-term favourites in commodities, emerging markets, and dividend yields.

The clues are like flitting shadows in my periphery vision but ones I can more clearly identify are -

Metals - A nicely bubbling speculative play on growth rarely sees metals sell off and copper and iron are really off.

North Korea - news stories work like investments and have their own cycle of overland under response. More attention is paid to the speed of change than the underlying slow grind. The easiest things to miss are the quiet unobtrusive trends which don’t have a 'Wow - look at that 10% move’ bringing them to general attention. North Korea is a slow-burning fuse on a potential powder keg.

Fed - A few years back I stopped getting excited about Fed meetings as the hot air to true impact ratio has always been too high. This latest one has left the market a bit confused apparently with excuses being attached to ‘unexpected’ market responses. I’d rather read this as a confused market that is grasping at straws. An indication that any new feature or price drive can easily pick up a new herding.

EU - Growth is wallpapering over the cracks in the EU allowing Juncker to assume the role of Caesar with his federalist plans. The European markets are buoyant, the spreads of periphery against core are getting to the point where they appear to be discounting convergence with no chance of independent default. All are discounted as well with EU, so how much more good news can there be?

One of the greatest trends of the past years has been the issuance of debt rather than the issuance of equity. To the point of frustration as nearly all the fruity projects I’d like to invest in are, quite rightly, held in-house. Why issue stock when you can issue debt to a closed group without all the aggravation of coping with a slew of irritating nonparticipating shareholders. The only time you ‘ll get a slice of the pie is once the idea has been maxed out for the early investors.

But if there is going to be an end to the underwriting of debt by central banks then the risks change. I think we are at the start of the great reversal here all that debt that has been issued to buy back stock gets reversed.

Do I want to hold bonds? No. Do I want to hold equities? No. Do I want to hold a guaranteed return paying above inflation? Yes. But the number of government renewable energy schemes that guarantee that is reducing fast and it’s unfortunate that the surest way to receive an inflation-busting sure fire yield is through an arbitrage of misplaced government subsidies.

So what do I hold? There is one chart that I have never seen but would love someone to produce. It is effectively the inverse of an index of every investment there is. It would be the price of fiat cash. Not having seen such a chart, but imagining it and imagining the work technical analysts could have with it, I would not be surprised for them all to be saying that cash is in dangerously oversold territory. With the accompanying ‘we haven’t seen cash this cheap since xxxx” commentaries.

Who does hold fiat cash these days? Everything is invested in a scheme. Or a new version of cash which isn’t cash. The fallout from the 2008 meltdown was a complete distrust of banks which has spawned the growth of pseudo banks that have much higher risk than traditional banks but are perceived not to as they are not banks. Cash is not king at the moment, apart from places that have been devastated by natural disasters leaving them without the power needed to make electronic payments. The dependency of the monetary system on power infrastructure is often overlooked.

But I am going into cash. It is very oversold. There are probably clever ways I can play hedges but the best hedge is to exit your position. Or buy one in a garden center.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Fund report - Polemic Casino Fund

There was a Bloomberg article out 'separating the dos from the don'ts in investing'  that wouldn't have caught my attention other than  Rob Majteles‏ (@treehcapital) tweeted it with the most observational of comments -

"Only real way? Make money, then look back and pretend you actually know why..."

Which is very apt as investment performance is as important an ingredient in feeding fund narratives as any economic data is for market narratives. Losses are excused away to the point of failure. Hugh Hendry really should have read this wonderful piece by Ben Hunt on why we have to adapt our beliefs or die. Profits are always held up as proof of genius. "My Profit, our loss", as @Gerald_Ashley pointed out to me so many years ago I have stolen it as my own.

But the idea that a random walk or luck can be repackaged as proof of future returns had me wondering how a blatant case of luck could be presented in the style of a fund performance report. So here goes.

The  Polemic Casino Fund Manager’s report for the half year ended September 2017

Dear Investor

During the six months to 30 September 2017, the Polemic Casino Fund share class rose by 18.9%. This was more than the 11.0% gain posted by the FTSE All-Share index, and placed the fund in the upper quartile of our 'IA Funds we chose to benchmark against’ peer group. The fund notably outperformed every other fund in the IA Funds 'Not as good as us’ group.

It was an eventful six months in the casino market with seismic events at the blackjack and baccarat tables dominating the news, leading to a significant sector rotation into craps. Roulette and slot machines (particularly our hold of the 3 bars) were the best-performing sectors. More defensive areas of the market, for example mechanical horses and online poker posted negative returns. This market rotation was helpful for relative fund performance as our aggressive stance led us to avoid exposure to bar bills, hostess tips and restaurant meals thus contributing to the fund outperforming benchmark.

Roulette was the largest contributor to our total return over the period. Yields in our algorithmic ‘it’s going to be red’ model saw exceptional yields of 100% in the first roll and though yields saw declines thereafter we saw opportunities for diversification and allocations into our macro driven ’no, this one will be black’ program quickly saw the performance recover. We were unfortunate to have been subject to a 3 standard deviation event occurring at 11.30pm with the ball landing on green zero. This was due to Brexit. Though we continue to see a reoccurrence as a low-risk event, we are looking for the UK government to make their position on Europe clear so that market participants can plan for future spins.

Rapidly rising piles of cash on the lips of the penny falls machines boosted sentiment towards the sector. Competition entered the market with the Close brothers competing at slot 3, however, our selective nudging of the machine made good contributions to performance. Finally, baccarat, new to the portfolio, saw net positive returns after a game-changing acquisition of a seat next to old Mrs. Spriggington-Dawkins. While the scale and scope of the acquisition entail significant execution risk, we believe the risk/reward ratio is favourable as her small dog has run off with her glasses after she dropped them on the floor.

On the negative side, several defensive holdings on the blackjack table posted small losses as investors rotated from one table to another averaging out returns that were insufficient to pay for broker fees, a sensitive area of the market. Midway through the period, the struggling 'hold on fifteens' took their toll on the group and returns fell back. We used this short-term setback to increase our exposure to splitting 9s and saw returns improve.

We started one new holding during the period. Structured as a REIT, we have taken a long-term exposure in the real estate at the bar where staff return glasses. This environmentally recognised fund focuses on the recycling of half-finished drinks into new glasses, returning them to the market under a generic branding. The highly experienced management team has developed an excellent track record as shrewd acquisitors of high-yielding single malts. At current levels, we believe the fund to represent good value and offer a high and secure dividend yield.

Looking ahead, online gaming has significantly expanded capturing a type of market participant that we do not consider as class clients. We have swaggered into the casino on new highs into the next half with confidence that the outperformance of early 2017 is a testament to the superiority of our research, analytics and forecasting of our markets.

There has been a spate of blacks in the far corner tables, leading many investors to enter the new year with optimism. We do not share this enthusiasm. Our long-term concerns, centered on unfavourable demographic trends and high debt levels, jar uncomfortably with some broad market valuation metrics that are flashing red on our screens. So we will stick to red.

As a result, we remain relatively aggressive with our capital capture model picking up dropped chips. We are able to fully participate in what we see as the first stages of an increasingly momentum-driven, highly valued, ICO issuance program, launching our own in February. With a rotation from the tables into crypto issuance, we anticipate limitless upside whilst the stock of morons remains high.

Thank you for your continued support.

Polemic Paine

Regulatory note - MiFID II directive

We are pleased to advise investors that under MiFID II regulations, research costs will be born by the firm excepting one-off payments to Jim, the croupier. His research into when he will issue bent dice has been invaluable to the fund and is quantifiably responsible for 23% of performance in the crap market.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Surviving the behavioural arms race

I spoke to someone today who was surprised to hear where sterling was trading. They aren’t like us market watching nuts and only glean their news from the television and radio and the television and radio only report sharp down moves in GBP. But GBP is a narrative for all seasons and whether your season is bad weather to support your beliefs or good weather to support your beliefs you will find something in any move to water your roses. So, in line with my Brexit news curfew, I am not going to use the move in GBP to substantiate any narrative. But I am willing to say that GBP has gone up a lot because there are more willing buyers than willing sellers.

And probably because no one can think of any other trade to do, having worn out every other theme over the last 2 years. It also fits with my ‘don’t do what you are told' investment policy because nearly everything you are told to do in your life is for someone else's benefit.

Of course, it’s always framed in such a way as to sound as though it is for your benefit but it rarely is.

- Hi Sir would you like fries with that? Oh how caring, yes please .. that'll be £4.50
- Would you like a job at our bank? Oh yes please .. right sit there for a year on intern peanuts and we may give you a break.
- You know what? You really should get a good education, get good GCSEs, good A Levels, a degree, a job working 14hrs a day to earn money to buy a Victorian terraced house/warehouse shoe box to marry a great professional partner to have kids and pay for their great education so they can do the same and then pay off your mortgage and then save for retirement and then retire and then wonder where your life went and then die - Meanwhile you really should do stuff for me so I don't have to do it.

Somewhere along the line, you have to set your own goals, your own. NO! YOUR OWN! Not what your peer group set for you. Tough isn’t it, in this age of 'social everything' where we are more dependent upon human interaction than we ever have been. In years gone by the envelope of our survival bubble interfaced with nature. Whether it rained or snowed, if the crops grew or withered, if the hunt came in, or ate us, or if we contracted a disease. Everything was focused on battling nature.

Now think how much of your life’s attentions to survival are concerned with nature (‘Oh I worry about global warming’ doesn't count) and how much of your survival is dependent upon people outside your family group. People doing what you need them to. For you to survive.

So human interactions are becoming more critical as the hive we live in expands with more interdependent members. We are no longer independent amoeba, we are cells in a body. A body we need to inhabit to survive. Though I think we may be more like slime molds

So how we interface with others is all the more critical. Behavioural sciences, human biases, understanding our psyche to best tune ourselves and understanding that of others, to tune our responses to them to maximise their responses to us, is fast becoming the cutting edge of marginal return.

An arms race of behavioural understanding results in a vortex of behavioural play and counter play. Those trying to learn how to use and respond to behavioral inputs are already behind the curve as they are learning from and feeding back value to those who are teaching them. A Ponzi scheme if you wish. We don't know

I was at the Nudgestock conference last summer where we were entertained by some of the brightest behavioural experts out there. The audience should have been lapping up the insight but interestingly were still exhibiting there own behavioural biases that prevented them paradoxically from learning about behaviour. One of the speakers was Dominic Cummings. The mastermind behind the Leave campaign of Brexit. What he had to say was fascinatingly brilliant, as his attention to behavioural manipulation in that campaign was what won it.

Now are you still reading this? Or have you associated ‘Dominic Cummings’, ‘manipulation’ ‘leave’ and ‘brilliant’ and formed an opinion that you can’t possibly learn anything more from what I write because you hate the man that manipulated the country into doing something you feel so completely and utterly stupid, classing him as the king of manipulative evil and me, in even being entertained by his talk, must be likewise? Because that is pretty much what the audience did. Instead of enquiring, the audience shut down. Which was the most fascinating live practical demonstration of behavioural biases I have seen from a bunch of folks who were meant to understand and adapt to behavioural biases and gave me hope that there is a huge arbitrage out there in behavioural markets. If the experts can’t spot their own biases then there is gold in them there hills. most likely found selling picks to the behavioural miners. Otherwise known as running courses and conferences.

Unless you understand how people tick, what drives them and what influences them you will never be able to predict their behaviour towards the things that you cherish or need. If you have been in the markets longer than a 12yr old quant analyst, you will know that predicting why and when others will desire to own something is the holy grail to doing it first.

Handbags, stocks, electricity, FX rates, shoes, soap, kids toys.. the lot. Predicting when demand will wax or wain is instrumental to making money out of fashions. Influencing those outcomes by influencing behaviour is power, but as soon as we learn the tricks of manipulation we are able to counter them. Influencer or influencee. It's a behavioural sword fight.

Let our defences down and we are outwitted and they have us, we won’t know it but we will be striving for something that costs us and benefits them. The greatest cost of goals is the unhappiness in not achieving them.

So, as I say to the kids, the shortcut to happiness is to move the goal posts. Part of that is realising that you really don’t have to know everything.

As it is harder to know when to get out of a trade than to get into it, it is harder to know what you don’t have to know than to know what you do.

And, with that, I exit my long sterling position.
Night night

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Ramblings of a mad man.

My last post mentioned me selling out of Woodford Income fund and going it alone in an attempt to lose money in a more amusing manner than Woodford had. Which primarily involved shorting EURGBP and owning a small Tungsten mining stock called Wolf Minerals. The bad news is that Woodford outperformed me on the losing money stakes, whilst the good news is I can now afford a craft ale and I had some fun.

I can’t string thoughts together tonight so here are the bullet points.

The path of pain is for equities to skyrocket again. Purely for the reason that we have had so much bad news recently and we haven't been able to go down.

I note USDMXN and USDRUB are moving higher. Why these two over other EM? Trump unwind and USDRUB is a refection of many global things.

This could be a precursor to an EM unwind, which doesn’t sit well with my general 'risk motoring' view. Better watch this.

Copper bounced but is down again. Looks like a rollover sign.  Add this to EM concern though both could be USD rally backlash.

USD rally? Look at cable, are you sure?

GBP rally, FTSE underperforms, naturally. But some idiots are going to use either to support their narratives on Brexit, so as a prophylactic…..

I have muted the word ‘Brexit’ from my twitter stream - I highly recommend it. My cortisol levels are already dropping.

“There was anger over .. “ is an overused sure fire emotional radio/tv news headline but is totally vacuous.

Listen to this - Forecasting - how to map the future

And when you are done with that, watch this - This episode explores how the human brain relies on other brains to thrive and survive.

Mifid2 - I am setting up an "artisan organic blockchain research" platform as it will be able to charge 16 times as much for the same product as a basic research platform. Maybe more if I get a graphic designer to put swirly floral patterns on the home page.

Iphone8 - if you want to understand why it will sell more than the Samsung S8 then read this.  Basically, we are hardwired to be predisposed to believe that something more expensive is better. It’s how face creams work, or don't but get bought. And the corollary is this blog.

iPhone8 everything else- you can talk using a turd emoji. It does a lot of things the Samsung S8 does but in a cooler way. And it's got no home button. So that’s you stuffed coming out of the club at 4am. But it does want to have 30,000 points of familiarity with my face. That might work as a chat up line for some but not with me and certainly not from a phone. There has to be some acne cream manufacturer banging on Apple’s door with that feature, surely.

The levels of bad debt at Italian banks is collapsing, not as much because bad debt is getting good as people are buying bad debt from the banks in the hope it will become good debt. Pass the ticking parcel, so to speak.

It may be being used for other purposes though. Crypto currencies Initial Coin Offerings have broken the records set in CDOsquared property heaven of 2006/7 by amortising the future value of fresh air - this example of a guaranteed honestly useless coin is Useless Etherium, which would be priceless if it didn’t have a price, but it raised $90,000. So if you can now issue crypto currency backed by nothing and folks will buy it, just imagine how much you could get by backing it with something, anything .. even Italian bad debt - Standby for the ItalianBadDebtCoin. #IBDC

It maybe too late as FCA goes Loco on ICO - not really but it rhymes. They have announced that ICOs are very risky but aren’t always sure if they are covered by FCA regs but watch out if they are. And just don’t put your hand too far into the meat grinder if they are not. That's helpful, isn't it?

Have you seen how much energy bitcoin is consuming?
Please take a look in

The same amount as the country of Jordan just to process existing transactions. 175kWh for each transaction apparently. This is the equivalent to an inverse perpetual motion machine - you pour in limitless energy and get nothing out. Some rule of the conservation of something is being broken here and if it isn’t then the planet is. Bitcoin is not green.

And we have to add Etherum and the rest to that too.

Jamie Dimon says Bitcoin is a scam - a very bright man is that Mr Dimon. OK, he may have been wrong about some things in the past but if we refuse to listen to anyone who once got something wrong we’d only be listening to 1yr olds.

To try to immerse myself in bitcoin I tried to follow some bitcoin twitter. Imagine a primary school playground at break where the kids have found a copy of "Janet and John go charting”, some spacesuits, cardboard and crayons.

Yeah, I know - here comes the abuse. But I've openly come out as a Bitcoinophobe so you can’t oppress me because if you think that I am wrong then it means you think you are superior to me and so anything you say would be bullying. Or some such PC force field barrier.

I’ve spent too much energy on Bitcoin too. It just sucks it out of you.

Other stuff -

They are going ahead with the Stonehenge A303 tunnel. Yeehaaa!! It's avoiding the monument and though some are saying its disturbing ancient land, nearly all land is ancient. As for desecrating it, I’m sure those trees and that grass aren't 5000yrs old. Anyway, did you know that Stonehenge was moved from near Milton Keynes by the Romans to make way for Watling Street but they kept it quiet? Strange but untrue.

The protests at disturbing this monument seemed at odds with other recent calls to pull monuments down. When does a statue which is subject to being pulled down in protest against the erectors morals, transcend into an ancient monument where age makes it immune to threat. Just saying that, say, say, like, I could prove that Stonehenge was built by child murdering proto-nazis would there be a call to pull it down? No? So how is the time/moral boundary determined?

Now I ‘ve gone too far off on a tangent.

I'll end


Monday, 11 September 2017

Doom Buster

Doom Buster 

Kim Jong-Un and Irma,
Brexit and Trump,
Global debt monster,
To give us a thump

Russia, Iran,
Post-Turkish Coup
Household debt, China debt,
Coming for you

Greek budget wrangles
OPEC in tangles
Crypto new-fangles
Attack from all angles.

Yet Yen down and gold down
Bonds down and VIX down
Basis and swap down
No price risk in this town.

Stocks up and oil up
Sterling and tech up
Carry up and buck up
Buckle up for risk up

Bad news eroded
Bear market corroded
Sprung loaded and goaded
The market exploded


What I did in my summer holidays

It's been a pretty dull summer, trading wise. I’ve been out of nearly everything speculative for the past couple of months having parked funds in what I thought would be really boring other funds. Rather than pick individual risks, why not basket them up in more capable hands and let them do the leg work. As I haven’t really had a clue towards any big direction either way in DM equity indices, I moved to divi/income funds whilst leaving my core positions in commodities and EM. Nothing really clever in the latter as I have owned them for ages, normally buying when people told me I shouldn’t.

Mean reversion has worked a treat and nothing in the last few years has dissuaded me from my normal contrarian investor plan of doing the opposite to what I’m told. Let's call it a 'teenage investment policy'.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take my own advice with the income fund, not really being too concerned about fine tuning so I dumped it into the broker's highly rated well known steady 'Woodford Income fund’. Well, that’ll teach me. Down 2.5% in no time, accompanied with apologies from the man himself for investing poorly. No, I invested poorly. So I am out of that and have been so peeved at such a well recommended ''safe as houses' fund such as his, can lose 2.5% in a couple of months in a steady market I might as well take my money out and do something fun and lose it myself.

First off - Short EURGBP. I know I've been trying to short it now and again and getting taken out on tight stops but now is the time for a bigger punt with a wider stop. Why? Narrative. I am not going to discuss Brexit here. I will, however, discuss why I am not going to discuss Brexit. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I, nor any other commentator, can change the outcome, despite many thinking they can. I am going to handle the issue as I do most crucial sports events by not watching it, instead I am just waiting for the result. The result is the important part not all the yelling and crying in the grandstands at the process that gets us there.

Hurricanes - There is a fashion to blame anything bad on things you don’t like, but the 'recency heuristic' has lulled everyone into a sense of security over hurricanes. We have just ended a very atypical 10yr run of low hurricane occurrence. These current ones are monsters and it is with great sadness I see what they have done to places I have fond memories of and to peoples who have never had much. But one thing that is sure is that there is going to be a lot of rebuilding going on and the Fed is unlikely to put up rates. Hurricanes are nature's Keynesian holes in the ground.
I would not be selling US equities in general on this.

Copper - You need it for rebuilding homes right? It’s a bit more complicated than that but the move up in copper came to an abrupt halt at the end of last week, said to be on the news that China imports were flat. It is more likely it fell because folks who don’t follow copper had just started following it because it had gone up a lot and had to get out before their mothers asked where the cash from their purses had gone.

But my attention is currently on the Tungsten market. Tungsten is rarely mentioned but it has gone up a lot (It is good for bullets and armour piercing weapons, but I'd rather say that demand is up for other reasons)

My attention is particularly piqued because during my latest batch of walking therapy on the UK’s wonderful Dartmoor I passed a mine. Not one of the hundreds of ancient tin mines that scar every brook, but the working Hemerdon Mine, that has been set up to extract tungsten from the world’s 4th biggest deposit of tungsten/tin. I was so impressed when I first heard about such a large deposit sitting in the UK I bought shares in the operator Wolf Minerals. These swiftly became bottom drawer investments as they dumped 85% on a combination of falling metal prices and poor extraction management. With tungsten prices exploding again I am just left with poor management, the ‘wrong type’ of ore grade and high debt. But the share price reflects all of that, even the Daily Telegraph isn't impressed .  So, in a typical contrarian way I have bought a lot more. If Mr Woodford can screw up a stable sensible fund, then throwing money at a bombed out stock that just needs a bit of time and luck as its product prices are roaring (but mostly unseen as tungsten prices aren’t that visible) is much more rewarding. And if it does bomb it's solely my fault.

But thank you, Bloomberg, for publishing this as I am writing

Oil - I'm still long the high leverage bombed out non-US producer stuff but have shifted some of that into US royalty owning trusts such as Permian and Dorchester. Without the leverage, they can last a dump better than the debt laden and should see a straight rise higher on an oil rally. I’m following Brent for the general direction of oil markets as WTI is too messed up by US weather/refinery issues.

EM - Still core long in the background on the simple premise that if someone is willing to do your job for less than you, you are screwed. Emerging markets are still hungry, whereas, judging by the bleating and moaning about everything from Developed Market twitter accounts, we just expect it all and when we aren’t given it, complain it's someone else’s fault.

Other trades out there? Probably the best one is to get a job that doesn't involve trading.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Bitcoin - Pick a number, any number.

I’m going to write about Bitcoin. Not because I like it, or hate it, just because I rank it as one of the maddest delusions of a market that I have ever known.

A market which is a case study of -

Correlation vs causality
Wealth redistribution.
Randomised social mobility acceleration
Disconnected arguments
The technical analysis of noise.
Cyber crime indices

Bitcoin is the blockchain equivalent of Trevithick's 1802 Coalbrookdale steam locomotive

As Trevithick's machine was the first iteration of a steam technology that was to change the world so  Bitcoin is the first iteration of a technology of coding that will change the way many data management functions are performed. It is also an anonymised payment system.

As a payment system, its value can be calculated in the same way you calculate that of a credit card company - the value of the sum of charges made for the transactions by the company, less the costs to run it.  I don’t believe Bitcoin charge transaction fees so on that basis it is zero and I don’t believe they have any IP ownership of the blockchain idea, so zero value there too. As a stock price is effectively a discounted function of future cash flow and Bitcoin has no cash flow, the value of Bitcoin Inc is zero.

Some say that Bitcoin is a currency. Is it? What drives currency price differentials?

Trade balances - Does Bitcoin represent a trade bloc and so move on trade flows? No

Interest Rate Differentials - Does Bitcoin have an interest rate benefit? At zero interest rate, it has a negative carry against any +ve yielding currency - Mostly no (unless you are Swiss).

Foreign Direct Investment - Does Bitcoin see demand due to FDI into a domestic economy? No.

Reserve Asset - Is Bitcoin a global reserve currency displaying all the criteria needed to be seen as such? No.

Inflation - Does Bitcoin move due to relative supply against competitive monetary systems. - Yes, but with the contraction of global QE this is not moving in Bitcoin's favour. An additional consideration is the uncertainty of the evolution of other competing pseudo currencies or the competitive function of gold or any other non-monetary commodity. Why buy Bitcoin when you can hedge your future demand for an underlying essential directly rather than using an intermediary?

Even if we assume Bitcoin is a currency, on the basis that it can be used for transactions, using the parallel to FX markets the transactional function of Bitcoin is identical to a very very short duration FX swap, where both parties agree on a fixing spot rate on which to base other charges, such as interest differentials. As it is on a micro time scale with no transactional charges, those costs are pretty near zero and the fixing rate is immaterial. It doesn’t matter whether the  GBP amount you need to buy something priced in USD is 1 Bitcoin or 0.0001. You also expect the recipient to really be pricing in USD with a BTC conversion occurring at their end - just doing the reverse action as soon as possible. If anyone is mad enough to price their goods at fixed Bitcoin prices then they deserve to see no business or go bust as folk arbitrage the FX rates.

If a retailer does decide to hold its BTC receivables as BTC then they are taking a massive FX risk. Which is why I read this from an Overstock ($OSTK) exec saying they keep 50% of their BTC received as BTC somewhat of a concern if they see themselves as a retailer rather than an FX punter. So should I be short or VERY short of their stock?

Having decided that Bitcoin technology has no unique value to Bitcoin itself, as it can be replicated by others (indeed the proliferation of crypto-currencies is a testament to this) and decided that for transactions one only needs to rent it for a fraction of a second, then why would one want to hold and store it?

It is said that Bitcoin is a store of value that will only go up as there is a limited supply and the rules of issue are immutable.

Even before the current issue of a bifurcation of the Bitcoin platform is considered, the primary condition for storing value is that the value of your store does not change relative to what you value. Most of us value the security of food, shelter and warmth, all of which have to be purchased in local currency. The value of Bitcoin relative to these things is currently oscillating at +/-30% a month. That is one heck of a risk that leaves even investing in CDOs a preferable store of value.

Yet despite all of my cynicism towards the price of Bitcoin, the price has indeed gone up. When the price of something moves in the direction that the narrator predicted it is used as a form of substantiation of their initial arguments. The ‘see I was right’ view is dangerous for the old reason that correlation does not imply causation. Bitcoin prices can effectively soar on the ‘greater fool’ theory rather than any of the tulip like arguments of long term value holding water.

In some cases, the huge volatility risk is a price worth paying for anonymity. Cybercrime ransom holders, money launderers and capital restriction bypassers may well be happy to run the risk but if these are the sole beneficiaries then you can be pretty sure that society will clamp down on the tool tat facilitates their crimes.

I mentioned in my last post on wine and trade selection that complexity is used to imply expertise and I seen this demonstrated in the complexity of technical analysis that is applied to crypto-currency trading. I agree that technical analysis is a fine tool to apply for market timing and can be used to detect changing behavioral trends but its over-precise application to a market which is impossible to apply a fundamental value to strikes me as futile.

I'll apply a BTC example I saw last night

Technical analyst - Price is approaching huge support at $2000!
Price - Cleanly passes through 2000 and keeps grinding lower.
Tech Analyst - Price has broken huge support at $2000! Next support at $1800
Reality - $2000 was never a massive support apart from in the eye of someone with a pencil and ruler and $1800 is just as likely not to be either.

So what does this tell us? Apart from adding to the belief that Bitcoin price is as irrelevant and unpredictable as a random walk, it tells us that a lot of people are applying a lot of effort in the wrong direction, trying to make free money from a gambling machine.

Does this serve a function to society? In one respect it does - It redistributes money. In effect, it is a steroid to social mobility. As 'social mobility' has become a term that solely reflects wealth Bitcoin is a wonderful way to take from one person and give to another. Poor people get rich and rich people get poor though rich people can get richer and poor people poorer. It is a lottery ticket with the benefit of an average yield of 0%, which is better than the -50% of most lottery tickets and winning the lottery is the fastest way up the income tree, even if many winners wouldn't be classed as moving one jot in the true meaning of ‘social class’.

In summary, I remain of the belief that Bitcoin has provided the world with a wonderful starting point from which humanity will benefit, but anyone buying a Bitcoin for long term investment purposes will end up as rich as a man who ordered 200 of Trevithick's 1802 Coalbrookdale steam locomotives expecting them to dominate the railway age for the next hundred years.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Donnie and the Great Glass Separator

Donnie and the great glass separator

As Trump is now pushing for his Mexican Wall to be transparent, let's have a guess at future news headlines.

-- Pilkington stock resembles Bitcoin during a cybercrime outbreak..

-- Window cleaners paid 250k a year as national window cleaner shortage bites.

-- Wall Street offices remain the most opaque since 2007 due to window cleaner shortage.

-- Microsoft stock trebles as algos misinterpret news of massive new demand for windows

-- Plastic surgeons move to new Mexico cashing in on the surge in facial injuries due to walking into unseen barriers.

-- Convexity within structure causes unforeseen losses. - Wildfires ignite due to sunlight focusing at bends in the wall.

-- Drug prices in US collapse on increased supply as drug dealers can now see and catch the incoming contraband.

-- Mexicans break the world record for mass mooning.

-- Curtain sales soar as design flaws in original plan ameliorated.

-- Trump warned not to throw stones as old English adage upheld by a court in Albuquerque.

-- Algorithmic trading companies use wall as massive fiber optic data feed.

-- Vogue declares glass this year's thing.

-- Opthalmologists argue wall should be corrective.

-- 'Rain-x' hording blamed for 2% rise in US retail sales.

-- CNN mock Fox News story that wall to be double glazed to keep Texas cool.

-- Seaworld petition for double glazing to have 30ft separation with a water-filled interior to create first Atlantic to Pacific dolphin race track.

-- Dolphins trained and fitted with anti-drug dealer missiles.

-- Wall to be semi-mirrored so Mexicans can't look in, but US can look out.

-- Peep-show business establishes 300 miles of booths.

-- Rayban sponsor wall.

-- Anti-discrimination groups march under the banner "The glass is always cleaner on the other side"

-- Glass ceilings ruled legal on glass wall president precedent.

-- China build new Great Wall, invisible from space.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Vinicultural Analysis.

For the past few months I have been pretty inactive in the markets, instead parking money in dull old dividend paying stocks as I couldn’t see much else to get excited about.

Since then we have seen various scares pop up and disappear but, like perennial weeds in the garden of information, they sprout and either die or get pulled out. The continuing debate over who put the RU in TRUMP, the noise around how Brexit will or won't happen, the odd resurrection of how China is doomed or Australian property is about to go bust. The regular resurrection of "look at global debt it’s all going to blow up", the odd explosion of crypto-currency excitement based on the fact that the price has moved (normally due to someone using it to blackmail the world's computer users) or we have the perennial oil will dump/rally because xyz. But the markets have been steady. Of course, if you fractalise a chart you can always paint a picture of sharp moves but look at longer charts of much at all and nothing is really that exciting. Even USDMXN is back to where it was a year ago, acting as a class example of how short term trading on really long term ideas nearly always ends in disappointment.

So hence I have been sitting it out, picking up dividends.

There have been the odd opportunistic punts, normally fading fast moves, but I have even closed out my long time favorite of long USDTRY. Turkey is still a major focus for me as it sits at the intersection of so many regional power plays, but with the Justice March now over, media attention will wane and the country reverts to the back burner.

But today I sold US stock indices.

Why? Well, here I have a choice. I can list some complex arguments including charts, spreadsheets, numbers, political insight, positioning information and all sorts of things but is there any point? Explaining why you have put on trades is much like explaining why you like a wine. You only do so if you want others to try it or buy it.

To communicate in the world of wine, a new language has to be learned. One of the terroirs, climates and similes to every possible taste that isn’t wine flavoured - you never hear a wine critic saying a wine tastes of grapes, it's always blackberries, honey, tannins and herbal notes. This language is then used to describe to others, who also understand the language, whether they also should or should not drink it. But if you have no intention of telling anyone else wabout a wine, nor any interest in wines other people like, then you have no need to learn the language. I know which wines I like and I have them on a mental list in order of preference, but I do not need to know that a wine is oaky, citrusy, rich, light, tannic or blackberries with a finish of old dish mops to know, when I drink it, whether I like it or not.

In the world of finance the language of communication is slightly more important as, unlike wine, it really doesn't matter whether I like what I taste, but whether everyone around me likes what I have tasted too, preferably after I have tasted it so that they go out and buy it making what is in my cellar all the more valuable.

So the reams written on financial markets have the purpose of explaining why people like things in the hope that others will follow the trade or pay to read the critics' views, or just as importantly, to explain errors of judgment. Where a stock is purchased but turns out to be corked, the communication  runs along the lines of why, ast the trade idea came from a great house, grown on a terroir of MBA PhDs, lauded by the greatest trade sommeliers in the world,  it really was a great idea but just bad luck that it was pure vinegar to the P+L palate.

The routes to drinking a wine that you like are similar to those to initiating a trade.

1) You buy a plot of suitable land, plant vines, harvest the grapes a few years later, learn how to make wine, make wine and then drink it.

This route is the same as doing your own research. It is hugely time-consuming and you have to be an expert at every point of the process to ensure that errors don't compound resulting with a Balsamic.You run the risks that in the time it has taken your tastes have changed or you have gone bust investing in the infrastructure. This is the losing trade that really should have worked because you have 10 years of records and proof of process, yet you can only offer the excuse that it was really awful as being due to 'unforeseen eventualities'.

2) You follow the critics.

You read the Sunday newspaper supplements and try the recommended wines in the food and drink sections. After a bit, you get to know which critics throw up a higher number of wines you like and so tend to follow their recommendations more than any other. This is the cult of the media guru, the hedge fund god, the big name. But in following them you are always paying more than you should. The critics are already positioned, or their bosses are, and even if you sprint straight from the newsagent to the off-licence you’ll find you've been beaten to it and the shelves are stripped bare.

3) You know a man who knows a man.

I used to know a man the wine industry who specialised in finding the small vineyards next to the big famous ones. Their wines were nearly as good but at a fraction of the price as they weren’t geared for large-scale production or distribution. In finance, the chatter of those perceived to be closer to the big decision makers is deemed more valuable than that of others. Whispers start that a great trade is coming and only the cognoscenti know. And, if you listen to the right people, you may catch a whiff of it too. Twitter is the Tinder of financial gossip matchmaking.

4) You try lots of wines and settle on the ones you like.

You have instinctively grown to know what works for you, though you really can’t explain why you like them to anyone else. Nor want to. You rarely hear of these wine drinkers as they serve wine as a secondary consideration to the main event of the food or a party. They know what they like but won’t ram its wonderfulness down your throat. These are the old traders who just seem to have a gut feeling for markets and rarely say more than "it’s bid" (I like it) or "it’s offered" (I don’t like it).

5) Use a combination of 2, 3 and 4.

This is how things tend to work both in wine and financial markets. Opinions bend according to fashions, fashions are set by style leaders (gurus) and the masses follow. Gurus wax and wane but mostly wax until there are so many of them their value is diluted. Yet to be part of the in-crowd you have to be able to talk the language. To sound more of an authority than the next complexity is exploited. The finer the detail the more assumed the expertise is.But often the finer the detail the less influence it has on outcome and the less it matters.

Apart from methods 1 and 4, one has to learn the language of financial market communications. Either to show one's own prowess, to be followed or paid, or to understand what others are saying, whether it is true or not. Every now and again a critic can trip up, like the CNN lady who claimed this week that Stagflation is a new made up would be the equivalent of a wine critic excusing herself, saying that she just thought that Sauvignon was a typo of Sauterne.

I have sold US stocks. The price can go up or down. 50/50. That is all you really need to know. Why I think they will go down is only important if I want you to also sell US stocks or for you to think I'm really knowledgeable and to be listened to in future.

I really don’t need you to do either.

I just know that I like it.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Chihuahua disruption.

I met a great young doctor tonight, he 'scoped my throat because I thought I was going to die. My hypochondria, as it turned out, had merely toyed with 'fish bone graze + general sore throat' and arrived at 'red herring'. Well, actually that was his joke. My joke, after he had mentioned the soaring value of his Bitcoin position, was to paraphrase and throw back at him the old vegan joke.

A- How do you know when someone is long of Bitcoin.
Q- Because they always f’ing tell you..

He is long Bitcoin and believes that the price of bitcoin will revolutionise the world. I asked if he knew a surgeon called Mr. Ponzi. He didn’t. The price of Bitcoin can be anywhere you want as the value of a chequebook is not the value of the number written on it.

So I'm launching a new index to go with the other indices out there. To the DPI ( Dinner Party Index) and TDI (Taxi Driver Index) I add the DrI - the Dr. Index. (A Baltic DrI perhaps? Maybe, but not after Brexit).  The DrI is flashing red on Bitcoin. Mind you, if you are a young doctor and wish to go long of crime then buying bitcoin is probably safer than following Dr. Crippin’s investment advice. Or perhaps my new friend is counting on the NHS becoming a Bitcoin-based service, where you use virtual money to pay for virtual care. Nononono .. a cheap pun, NHS care is unbelievably brilliant when you get it.

But the young are great believers in new disruptive technology and scorn the types of company I had just visited on my way to having a probe put up my nose. I had visited our local Audi dealership to pick a car up from servicing. I usually take my cars to Ken. He is brilliant and for a one man business in an old barn, it's amazing the amount of tech kit he has to cope with all the makes he deals with. Ken charges me £40/hour. Audi, with their one brand kit, charge me somewhat more than £150/hour.

So why did I go to Audi? Because they have devised a new form of restrictive practice. The service logbook is now online with only Audi or Audi recognised (read ‘paying Audi’) entities allowed access to make entries. So to get my electronic service stamp I paid the entry price for a service and experienced the equivalent of the Salvation Army headquarters in the City of London. The similarity? Hugely expensive expanses of chrome and glass sitting on prime real estate, funded by money that shouldn’t be going to purchasing and running glitzy premises, instead, being used to give charity to the poor or to provide spannering services at prices somewhat lower than legal fees.

But Ken hasn't lost out completely, I had an email from Audi near the end of their process. They had a worker go around the car with a video camera and then emailed me the resulting film together with an electronic Audi version of Amazon - an electronic shopping list of all the things they recommended I have done, ready to be clicked and authorised. The design of the site was clever in the way it replicated the easy, one-click "Jeez did I really mean to buy that” sites. They even had a picture of my car in the middle for that ‘look at your poor car, all alone in the garage, if it were a kitten you’d spend anything to make it better now wouldn’t you?’ pressure. I didn’t get much further than the £84 for new wiper blades and £60 for a bottle of brake fluid to be added because, if my car were a kitten, it would have a £100 self-insurance stop-loss on its head when it came to its longevity. Instead I 'cut n pasted' the list to Ken and had it booked in with him for the extras.

So what is going on here? Ken is the friendly man I trust, he gets the job done efficiently and he is a quarter of the price - yet he is not disrupting Audi. Far from it. Audi has created barriers to entry that in the financial world would be considered monopolistic and in Silicon Valley, would have seen Microsoft have to unbundle its web browsers even faster. I have to deal with Audi because of protectionism and I loathe them for it, even if they did give me a biscuit with my coffee as I waited the quarter of an hour to be seen by a service rep.

Disruption? I'm beginning to think that the branding fad of disruption is at the same point internet stocks were in 1999. Yes, it (new paradigm) sounds great but the soundbite is so far ahead of the reality you need the Hubble space telescope to see it. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google are not an example of how successful disruption is but, instead, what a failure it is. Who is now able to disrupt any of them? The plethora of primary coloured adverts (with lots of circles, circles are so inclusive) for disruptive new ideas thought out in a land of ideals are not so much world changing, but more like chihuahuas yapping at the heels of the behemoths. One might get lucky and land a turd on Mr. Behomoth's shoe but most are likely to get kickstarted with a swift back heel into the long grass yelping or get picked up but then quietly taken around the back of the woodshed. Some even take themselves around the back of the woodshed, such as the dreadful Lily drone that I stumped up for 2 years ago only for them to go under with my money.

Another reason I was thinking about the old steady investments versus the new was because of some wise words a friend of mine, relatively new to investing, had said to me. It was probably the first thing he had heard and it had stuck-  "never underestimate the investment power of dividend-paying defensive stocks" - which conjured up Kipling's ‘If’ lines

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs ..

Now at that point I always thought the next half line should be ‘…. then go short hats’, but here it's a comment on the old stalwarts. The type of company such as Unilever, who make so many essential day-to-day products they will just keep trucking along paying the dividends. Diversified product ranges all under one competition swamping conglomerate.

The topic of the Unilevers of the world was raised again in my conscious today by Dave Trott’s article in Campaign. He observes that the FMCGs ( Fast moving consumer goods) that Unilever excels at selling are not actually subject to the same form of brand loyalty as expensive consumer durables. If people buy a £5 product and don't like it, they can buy a different one next time and won’t give a thought to the £5 opportunity cost. Brand loyalty is greater the higher up the price point.

So how does the disrupter get high enough up the food chain to establish itself as a brand to be followed rather than a brand to be ditched? It needs to fight all the other newcomers. Tadpole land, where carnivorous tadpoles consume each other in their fight to make it to frog. The more seething the mire, the more energy is expended getting out of it and the less energy there is to take on the beasts that have already emerged ahead. In this respect, it is in the big companies interests to maintain the idea of the disrupter. Sell the dream of potential riches, much as the Investment Bank boss sells the dream to minions that if they work hard they could one day have his job, but all the time benefit from their infighting to protect his own position. Very Napoleonic in management style.

With markets being so quiet, as far as major trends go (get back in your e-box, bitcoin), we are left with streams of news and articles that are much like the chihuahuas of embryonic disrupters. Stories about what may, could or possibly happen if 4 levels of circumstantiality occur. The sands of news are being combed for tidbits of investment opportunity. But, as with most treasure hunting, the bulk of the bleeps from the metal detector yield nothing more than ring pulls which, though they once released a fizz, are now dulled with age. Which is why I am looking at this Steady Eddie, non-attention grabbing boring yielding non-tech behemoths to park my money in whilst I go and pursue more worthwhile interests for a bit.

The idea I am trying to propagate is that disruption is almost fake news. The big boys quietly stride on and are erecting further barriers to defend their positions whilst the new overexcitable disrupters yap and clamour causing the misdirection that is the foremost requirement of theatrical magic.

.... and watch for it in politics too.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Orpington Markets

At last, I am starting to form some thoughts and the result of them is pushing me towards sounding like Zero Hedge

There are dark clouds out there but day to day life carries on. One thing that previous crises has taught me is that the world is mostly made up of people who don't care. Their lives are too fraught with their own day to day concerns to change their set ways because of things happening a long way away in both space and time. 'Space' as in 'now but just not here' and 'time' as in 'it did 'happen here once, but a long time ago'. Like a fight in a street, crowds can see it happening but will walk on by minding their own business unless or until the fight turns on them. You may know things are going to be pretty shitty in the future but what do you do? Panic now and run away? Or bow to peer pressure and stay at the party drowning your fears, even if it does mean you have the biggest hangover the following day.

Or it's like falling asleep on the train after that party. You were surrounded on a packed train when you got on but you blink and find yourself alone in an empty carriage being shunted into a siding for the night. How the heck did you miss your stop, only to be left as the last one onboard with a night of cold darkness ahead of you? *For the record, throughout my life of commuting and some pretty big nights out, I have never missed my stop home.

In many ways, the markets are that train home. And we are currently at Orpington. For those of you who live in Orpington please disembark this post here, if you haven’t already at Chiselhurst. Orpington is an irregular stop on our fast line that normally evokes a low groan from non-Orpingtonians when the train stops there as, instead of whistling in and out of London, a stop at Orpington guarantees the train becomes rammed with London suburban commuters. As one old cove remarked many years ago, on opening one eye as the train drew to a halt in Orpington, “Ah, Apache country” and immediately took cover behind an FT.

Why are the markets at Orpington? Because when I look out from this packed train I see Apache country. I feel as though I am watching a movie through the window rather than an immediate reality I am actually involved in. I see visions of potential war, I see visions of EU upset. It’s beyond visions of a 1950’s Cowboy flick, it’s more an animated Dante’s inferno. But I'm behind the glass and it's warm in this train and there are lots of people around me who are also on the train and they don’t seem worried, so I’ll just stay here shall I? This is the problem with buying indices blindly. You are behind a glass wall in a carriage of self-reference and whilst you may see worries outside, as long as your peer group are with you then that reality appears far, far away.

But is the train about to empty after I return to my doze as my fellow travelers decide enough is enough and the future looks too bleak? It’s a game of chicken. No one wants to get off while it's warm and comfy but when they start there will be a rush for the doors as suddenly a phase change of opinion self-catalyses. A seed crystal in a supersaturated solution of bearishness.

So what do I see outside the window?

Russia vs West on the Syrian football pitch. I’m sorry West but your team is looking like Dad’s Army with Captain Donald Mainwaring in charge with Sergeant Boris JohnWilson organising things.

North Korea - they have informed the 200 foreign journalists currently there to prepare for something big on Thursday. As it’s the day of the Sun in North Korea that day I just pray that they aren’t going to make another one.

Europe - or more particularly, France. So we have a rising possibility of the final two candidates in the last vote being not Le Pen and Macron but Le Pen and Melenchon. Now as regular readers know my money has been on Fillon for a while but with the perceived rise of those previously thought not bothering to turn out now bothering to turn out and preferring Melenchon things have changed, there is suddenly the potential of having the far right and far left candidate agreeing on one thing -The EU/Euro has to change or they will take France out of it.

Yet my Fillon bet is not dead yet. The prospect of having two extremes both with anti-EU intentions could mean a resurgence in votes for my runner Fillon. Why Fillon and not Macron?

Well, Macron’s chances have just been blown out of the water. By what? I can proudly announce that the foolproof 'Economists Letter' indicator has just predicted the demise of Macron.

I last pointed to this trusty indicator a week before the US elections (here) when a panel of eminent economists endorsed Clinton. This was on the tail of the Economists Letter supporting the Brexit remain campaign. Well, they've done it again in France - see here - now my French isn’t great but reading that I think they are supporting a tasty new economic croissant that they hope Macron will bake for them.

So that is Macron out of the running, leaving the 'fallen at the first fence' Fillon, up and running again with a clear shot, backed by the moderates. Okedokey, tongue in cheek there, but this signal has been so stupefyingly accurate one has to take note.

However you want to spin this, the chances of France causing a wobble in global markets has increased rather than decreased. If France ends up with the far right or left winner then not only do OATs (French bonds) get toasted and rolled and all the other porridge puns, but Italy is going to be in a right royal mess unless it eats humble Greek pie and bows to every demand Germany makes.

So what do I buy or sell in this maelstrom? I may be late to the Party but I have sold some OATs. Selling pure Euro is not that simple. Yes, it's a wobble for the area but if France leaves the Euro does that make the Euro less or more valuable? It's a bit more German and a bit less French than it was. Which COULD be read as a stronger thing. My view of the ultimate fate of the Euro is that it will never die, instead people will gently abandon it until it becomes, like the holy grail in the Indiana Jones film, a dusty relic in a Brussels catacomb guarded by a representative of the ancient order of the Knights Euro for the ages to come. The rest of the world will move on to new shiny things. Where I will play Euro though is short against GBP. Long term GBP shorts may be suddenly squeezed by, believe it or not, the chance of the UK becoming a relatively safe haven. Now there's a thought.

So being uneasy on Euro, though it is an easy knee jerk bet, I am selling some BTPs again and buying low delta puts in things that shouldn’t be affected but will, no doubt, catch a cold from it all. Especially if I revert back to my Dante’s vision out of my train window, I am looking at SPX puts 2 and 3 months and buying gold.

After many years of decrying the goldbugs, I am buying it. And in true gold bug style, I am going to buy physical, not some ETF stashed in a warehouse a million miles away, and not tell anyone where I am stashing it. Though if I left it in my local station platform vending machine I think it would be pretty safe from ever being found.

So back to the market train. I am at Orpington and I am shuffling for the doors. I want to get off whilst it's Apache country before I get to Dante's Inferno or find myself in the marshaling yards at Folkestone, where a few old colleagues have spent a cold and miserable night comparing Folkestone to Dante's Inferno.

Final footnote - A huge thank you to those who have sponsored me to help YoungMinds. I walked 42 miles over 3 days, not big for you fit young things, but a Saharan crossing for me. Should you be able to make a late contribution to try to get me to my target I have left the page open at
A contribution from an Orpington reader would make my day. though is now very unlikely.