Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Is the EU protectionist?

In response to the Tony Barber piece in the FT "The EU is no protectionist racket"



- The EU’s FTAs are quite narrow and include Rules Of Origin constraints on manufactured goods.

- These are primarily goods trade deals which suit France and Germany but would not suit the UK. They also seek to impose EU product standards (more on this later).

- Public procurement is an area of French and German strength. It is why public procurement is one of the very few services that has been included in recent trade deals the EU have signed. However public procurement falls under State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or is classified as national security concerns. So though on the face of it it looks like the EU isn’t being protectionist via the trade agreement when it comes to actually awarding the contracts practice, these concessions are never awarded to foreigners. They impose local regulatory standards or clauses to make sure this is the case. The inclusion of the public procurement clause is a concession that will never result in anything for the counterpart.

- The US is not an innocent party, but it does have a legitimate argument that China, Korea and Germany have taken unfair advantage on trade by following mercantilist policies that restrict domestic market access via regulatory measures. The US is seeking to use its leverage to adjust this relationship.

- The US has already stated it would like to have a trade deal with the UK. There would be cheaper food in the UK as a result. the argument over such things as chlorinated chicken can be defused by clearly labelling produce and letting the consumer choose (c.f. free range eggs).

- Of course, the UK should depart from EU regulatory alignment where it is in the national interest. That is the point of taking back control. A significant trade deal that opens up markets in services and food is eminently in our better interests.

- The Irish border issue is not legally solvable. A fudge is required and will be found. The UK will not police it even if the EU wants to. The EU is being overly legalistic on this front, and technology will ultimately provide the solution. Lawyers have too static a view of a dynamic world, especially in this respect. The tendency for Eurocrats to regulate for the now, or the past, rather than the future is also why the EU is not going to end up with thousands of City bankers. Banking functions, including trading, are going to be dominated by AI and we should expect to see the supra-national FANG model become the norm in banking. The computer may sit where the regulator tells it to sit but those programming it won’t.

- They are protectionist by insisting other standards that might not conform to Rules of Origin requirements (in themselves protectionist). Erecting blanket trade barriers with the UK, even with products that do match their standards, because the UK won't enforce all of their standards domestically is pretty close to the definition of punishment beatings and protectionism.

- Setting EU standards is a form and force of protectionism that tries to export the cost of European social models on the non-EU supplier countries. It requires these countries to completely change the way they produce goods etc and instantly puts them at a disadvantage with French/German firms. This is why Dyson moved his production to Malaysia: they stitched the rules up to the UK's disadvantage. As a result, he pays the EU external tariff to export Dysons to the UK.

- The most liberal of FTAs is the Australia /New Zealand agreement, which involves Mutual Recognition Agreements. These accept that both countries' regulators are competent enough to be accepted by the other without the need for harmonisation. Harmony in this sense, though sounding peaceful, is the forced infliction upon other countries by the EU of the EU’s way of doing things (do it the way we want you to do it, not the way you do it) to their protectionist advantage. If you don't submit to being 'harmonised' with EU standards then you cannot have market access. A more sensible view would be that developed countries, by and large, have high enough product standards and service regulation that they should have Mutual Recognition Agreements instead of harmonisation.

-THIS IS NOT ABOUT TARIFFS, it's about Non-Tariff Barriers - which the EU excels at imposing. It's a French national pastime - remember the Battle of Poitiers with VHS recorders coming in from Japan? Why do they want to stop the UK from keeping the City? Because they want the business. True free-traders would allow it to continue with regulatory cooperation and Mutual Recognition. The BoE/FCA/PRA are amongst the best financial regulators in the world from a financial stability standpoint. The ECB et al, in appealing to financial stability risks as a reason for on-shoring, are applying the same logic as warning that building a bridge across the Thames will decimate the boat building business. It's protectionist.

- If the EU have always been such a liberal free trade loving union then why has it taken them decades to come up with these FTAs? Could it be that they feel threatened by the UK leaving? The UK had been pushing for such agreements years ago to no avail. If they had progressed with these earlier it may have defused some of the arguments for Brexit.

- Finally, let’s not forget that the EU’s very existence is based on a bilateral protectionist agreement to protect French agriculture and German steel and coal.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Behavioural gamma and fractal attractions - I blame the Russians.


I am fast wondering if someone has perfected the ultimate 'hunt and destroy’ algo trading weapon. The development of programs that can sniff out other’s stop levels and micturate all over them before running off maniacally laughing with their positions has been around for years, but the precision with which market moves have sliced and diced the flesh from many a portfolio this month has me wondering if the Russians have developed the killer algo of all killers.

I don’t really wonder if it’s the Russians, I more expect someone else to wonder if it's the Russians because if anything that involves a computer and cannot be easily explained, or rather can be easily explained by ‘yeah ok, I was dumb not to see that coming’ but we don’t want to say that - it's blamed on the Russians. I use it all the time now. My wife popped out of the room during ‘Call the Midwife’ on Sunday night and when she returned the TV was tuned to ‘Dragons Den’. I told her it must have been the Russians as I didn't know where the remote was. She couldn’t find it either to turn the channel back, thus proving my point. We also found that the Russians had turned the thermostat down in our house from 24C to 20C, which I can cope with but the Russians, as my dear wife pointed out, have also cut the power to all the wires and chargers by my bed, emptied the fridge of high-fat foods and hidden my favourite clothes. Damn cunning, these Ruskies.

Markets have turned ‘difficult trading’ into a form of waterboarding. I don’t need to talk you through the details of various asset swings over the last few weeks but if you have a position and your stop loss is in the range zero to infinity,  there is a good chance you have been stopped out. Unless you are an investor, in which case you have waved your hand in a marginally dismissive way whilst tilting your head slightly back to peer down your nose and languidly intone, “No my dear chap, I'm an investor, not a speculator, my investments are to provide me with long-term returns”. Which actually translates to - “ I haven’t got a clue what is going on with the markets as I had a chap come round to the house who sold me this marvellous long-term investment fund, no I don't know what the fees are actually, that I don’t have to look at as he assures me that it will pay me handsomely when I retire. Mr Woodford’s something or other”.

I was taken out today. Out of gold longs, stock shorts, and lunch. Only one was pleasurable.  Mourning the loss of my gold position, I bought a new one as I applied my trading maxim - 'the best time to enter a position is just after you have been stopped out of it’. Sad, but unfortunately true recently.

If you had your screens off for the last 36hrs you could well ask "what Fed minutes?"





This sort of thing hurts when you are suffering from  'fractal attraction’ and  'behavioural gamma'. When you don’t know what is going on you have some choices.

1- Carry on, pretending you do know what is going on - you may get lucky
2- Walk away - Clever, clever, clever.
3- Get angry that you don't know what is going on and make it a mission to know what is going on in an ever more dangerous search down the old mine of broken dreams - Danger danger danger Will Robinson.

Or perhaps Lassie - “What's that Lassie? You saw Polemic trying to dissect every price move down to a 3minute chart looking for patterns in order to look for breakouts that would define the next big move? And you think he needs rescuing? Nah.. he’ll already be dead"

The 'fractal attraction' is the drilling in on tighter and tighter time frame charts in the search for a pattern. Each zoom showing pretty much the same pattern, or lack of one, as the previous. Fractal-like. The 'behavioural gamma' is the chasing of any move that looks as though it is setting the next direction, as you really don't want to miss out, only for you to be caught out on a reversal and have to chase it the other way. Behavioural gamma increases dramatically when there isn’t a fitting narrative. It isn’t options gamma, as it is linked to behaviour not a mathemantically derived hedging demand, but I suppose you could imply a link between behavioural gamma and options gamma stemming from the same source of uncertainty.

One could even go so far as to cogitate if one drives the other or that the total sum of behavioural and options gamma is constant. But my mind is wandering too far.

I guess the point of this ramble is to say. Don't get sucked in. When you don't know what’s going on, walk away, as curiosity may well be terminal feline flu.

Just blame the Russians.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

GRReat - the Global Risk Repricing



First a recap -

10 days ago -

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, a spike 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 considered as part of the short UST trade. This is not about rate differentials anymore, as we have seen the divergence of rate differentials vs FX widen for the past few months, but about underlying trust in the US to manage its affairs. It's part of the risk adjustment as the US and USD have 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.


And then 7 days ago - Shorting the CPI and being stopped out. 

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.

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 in a Greek restaurant.

Since then.

I licked my wounds until Monday when I started shorting things again. I couldn’t bear to think about missing the big dump. Why Monday?

Momentum was fading and we had just had a new narrative on the block - Double deficit. The double-deficit was the next big thing. But double deficits are like herpes to many countries. Many have them but are mostly unnoticed. They are a pain and you don't want to give them to anyone but the worst they normally do is sting and everyone points, rings bells and shouts ‘unclean!’.  But when something else comes along they fade away into the background to reside in the ganglion of government statistics. A double deficit? How quaint.

We can have double deficits narrative and we can have inflation narrative and we can combine them in a theory of the US crowding out, but to combine them requires something to happen - risk assets have to reprice lower and the overall discount rate applied to US assets has to go up to compensate for future USD depreciation. Meanwhile, a bit of risk premium creeps into apparently risk free assets.

Now the inflation narrative is only supportive of stocks and commodities and emerging markets if it’s cost-push inflation. In this scenario, short end rates rally a touch as Fed lags as it is cost driven. But if the inflation is demand-pull inflation we have a different position as the Fed will tighten faster, real yields will go up, bear flattening the curve and stocks will fall as the market starts to worry about a potential recession from a potential Fed over tightening.

So we have both inflation and double deficit - stocks down
Cost-push inflation - stocks up
Demand-pull inflation - stocks down

Two out of three are down for stocks.

Today the Fed showed their hand and stocks fell.

And now?

I am hoping that the narrative will now find some clarity, but I am still very aware that this narrative is US-centric, yet major panicky moves are always contagious. So I am constantly watching everything else.

Europe - It’s a bit sad we have had the Brexit vote in the UK, not because of the result but because of the shading, it has put on the reporting of Europe. In the salons of London, it is considered terribly bad form to point to concerns in Europe because having declared an avid will to remain in the EU casting criticism on anything European is seen as handing sharp object s to the leavers.

The AfD is rising in popularity in Germany (I read something that they are now the 2nd most popular party).  Italian elections are on the way and have all the hallmarks of doing a Brexit/Trump in providing a ’shocking' result as the concerns of the basic voter are dismissed as socially incorrect and troubles shuffled under the official carpet.  Greece has just failed to get its latest round of bailout money, Ok, they will but it is a reminder that the new glass tower of the European economy is built upon the limestone caverns of past debt mismanagement and a sinkhole could open up at any moment.

Back in 2016, I think it was for my ‘thoughts for 2017', I suggested that Europe problems could be obscured as long as economic growth kept everyone happy. This is what we have seen. The concept of default risk has evaporated and even Italian banks have been able to offload what was previously considered as toxic waste under a new wrapper of 'high yield' to private hands. Let's also not forget what Portuguese government debt is yielding. Less than US treasuries the last time I looked - now there IS a changed narrative.

But I can’t forget what is out there and how every thread of favourably reassessed credit risk leads to the door of the ECB.

The concentration of credit risk that has flown into the ECB is stupendous. Of course, it isn’t default risk because the ECB can QE until its heart content. But how content will that heart continue to be when Draghi is replaced by Darth Weidmann, commander of the Bundeathstar. I saw comments that the SPD approved of his appointment. That’s not a story. The story would be if Syriza approved of his appointment. He is a very clever man to move onto that throne under the cover of a benign economy, but even today the PMIs of Europe began to disappoint.

We tend to look at whatever is the current issue with respect to the world rather than in balance with the rest of the world. When the EU has a crisis, it’s just an EU problem and the US is just fine. When Britain has a Brexit wobble then it's Britain's wobble and the EU is just fine. Rarely are the comparative strengths and weaknesses observed and considered. One part of the equation is anchored whilst the other is considered the variable.

But maybe it isn’t. We think this a US-centric issue in the markets but we must watch out and be impartial in our judgments. Though we have global growth masking other problems, once the problems arise, global growth can collapse.

I am still playing the macro short on risk but am desperate for low-risk yield. I just think that all risk is priced too low as we enter the Great 'Global Risk Repricing’ which I hereby copyright as the GRR. Grrrrrrr indeed.

When it occurs the central banks are going to have a knife edge to walk between loosening, to counter the restrictive function of higher risk premia and tightening, to counter the inflationary effects we are already seeing. As they say with great comedy. "the secret is in the t t t timing",

If they get it right, they won't have to do anything as tightening of risk premier does their job for them. GRReat.

But the risk rolls on.

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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b092r72l

And when you are done with that, watch this - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b070ss9x 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 https://digiconomist.net/bitcoin-energy-consumption



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

THE 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

-------
Polemic

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 http://www.asianmetal.com/TungstenPrice/Tungsten.html (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 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-10/china-sends-one-of-the-west-s-most-critical-materials-soaring


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.