Epsilon Theory Professional
A big change in our narrative monitors this month!
Also, some shocking (to me, anyway) data on how good some companies are with their stock buybacks, and how ugly and bad other companies are with theirs.
I think it’s going to be a long winter in tech-world.
In Q4 2007 – in the aftermath of the Bear Stearns MBS funds going out (June), the blow-up across most quant funds (August), and both autos and housing rolling over in the US – I got net short in my hedge fund and started looking for single stocks with business models that were levered to borrowing short and lending long in the structured mortgage product world.
Today I’m getting the same funny feeling about the structured mortgage product world.
Everywhere you look today, you are seeing Wall Street and Washington missionaries using annualized month-over-month or quarter-over-quarter inflation statistics to “prove” their opinions that inflation is not embedded and – more importantly – their opinions that the Fed should stop hiking interest rates.
It’s a terribly flawed cartoon of reality, but a very powerful narrative weapon.
My rule of thumb is that it takes about two months for the dead bodies of institutional investment firms that have been drowned by some macro turn of events to float to the surface. That’s a pretty gruesome way of making my point, and apologies for that, but it’s the best and truest analogy I could think of.
The math that drives 2023 dovish hopes on Wall Street and the White House is this: string 12 months of constant +0.2% month-over-month CPI readings together, and your CPI will end up at 2.43%.
Here are 4 consequences of policy makers waiting and hoping this comes to pass.
Could the German situation get worse? Of course it could. Have we had a “Lehman moment” yet? No, we have not. But I don’t think we are that far away from a Lehman moment in Germany, after which further bets on the system breaking down become much less attractive as existential system risk grows much higher. I don’t think we are that far away from a Tepper moment in Germany, where risk/reward asymmetry becomes infinitely skewed to going long for those who are going to be wiped out if the system fails anyway.
In times of profound informational need – like today when we *really* need to know if inflation is embedded in the real economy – we are desperate for data that will allow us to act with conviction. But the nature of our macro data construction guarantees we will get less accurate results during these times where we need accuracy the most.
As the kids would say, it’s just math.
Multiple not-seen-in-a-quarter-century events have occurred over the past six weeks in rates-world. The lack of narrative attention is striking, as are the implications for the next few quarters across markets.
I believe that it is impossible in a robust, ie, non-financialized and non-levered macroeconomic world, for a nation’s people to be a lot richer than their economy grows.
But that’s where we are.
It feels weird to be rooting for a Volcker-esque recession and long bear market as the best potential outcome for where we are today. But there are worse outcomes, like Weimar or war. And it feels like those much worse outcomes are squarely on the path of least political resistance.
We have two new narrative signals here in June, both Bullish in direction, which is a welcome change from the largely uniform Bearish signals of April and May.
But both on the surface and beneath the surface, there is an enormous amount of conflict and churn happening in narrative-world. Time to trim the risk sails.
For a solid two years, call it early 2011 through early 2013, comparative euro-area gov’t bond yields was the first chart I’d look at in the morning and the last chart I’d look at in the evening.
Time to start doing that again.
If there’s one common knowledge narrative that I think can break over the coming months, it’s But The US Consumer Is Strong! ™.
I’d like to tell you that our Narrative Monitors are not as bearish for May as they were for April.
Yep, I’d really like to tell you that.
The big global risk today is not that the banks are undercapitalized. No, the big global risk today is that banks are unwilling to provide long-term financing for anything. The big global risk today is that we are only in the early innings of a profound deleveraging cycle.
The narrative puts and takes of March (and the resulting market rollercoaster) have coalesced into no puts and all takes. This is about as bearish a set of narrative signals for risk assets as we’ve had in a long time.
I personally thought what Powell said in his presser today was market-negative. But who cares what I think! What matters is how market participants are geared to interpret what Powell was saying, and our narrative machine clearly showed they would interpret it positively. No matter what he actually said.
In commodity markets, crypto markets, and equity markets … we’re all sardine traders now.
I don’t think the proposed Russia sanctions are likely to trigger a systemic financial crisis, and I think Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling is posturing for Ukrainian settlement negotiations. I really don’t see the path to a global crisis here. Famous last words, I know …
The structure of a market narrative isn’t as settled or as constructed as a Hollywood script, but it’s not too far off, either.
We’re in Act Three of the inflation narrative.
I am a shortseller by nature and (former) profession. Like my favorite comic book character, Karnak the Inhuman, my superpower is to see the flaw in all things, which doesn’t exactly make me much fun at cocktail parties but is a (sometimes) valuable skill for a portfolio manager.
So here’s my perspective on what’s happening … one big place where my spidey-sense is tingling and one big place where it’s not.
You know who understands how inflation absolutely wrecks the popular support of any government? The Fed.
You know who doesn’t get it? You know who doesn’t get it AT ALL? The White House.
Today Jay Powell had a press conference, where he had a very simple and well-delivered message: Inflation Is.
Does this mean that we’re off to the races with risk assets? No. Not by a long shot. But for one day at least, Jay Powell and the Fed got ahead of the common knowledge game.
Inflation as common knowledge gives pricing power to consumer-facing companies.
Legacy Monitor Archive (Pre-January 2020)