The Global Bubble

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

Credit is not innately good or bad. Simplistically, productive Credit is constructive, while non-productive Credit is inevitably problematic. This crucial distinction tends to be masked throughout the boom period. Worse yet, a prolonged boom in “productive” Credit – surely fueled by some type of underlying monetary disorder – can prove particularly hazardous (to finance and the real economy).

Fundamentally, Credit is unstable. It is self-reinforcing and prone to excess. Credit Bubbles foment destabilizing price distortions, economic maladjustment, wealth redistribution and financial and economic vulnerability. Only through “activist” government intervention and manipulation will protracted Bubbles reach the point of precarious systemic fragility. Government/central bank monetary issuance coupled with market manipulations and liquidity backstops negates the self-adjusting processes that would typically work to restrain Credit and financial excess (and shorten the Credit cycle).

A multi-decade experiment in unfettered “money” and Credit has encompassed the world. Unique in history, the global financial “system” has operated with essentially no limitations to either the quantity or quality of Credit instruments issued. Over decades this has nurtured unprecedented Credit excess and attendant economic imbalances on a global basis. This historic experiment climaxed with a seven-year period of massive ($12 TN) global central bank “money” creation and market liquidity injections. It is central to my thesis that this experiment has failed and the unwind has commenced.

The U.S. repudiation of the gold standard in 1971 was a critical development. The seventies oil shocks, “stagflation” and the Latin American debt debacle were instrumental. Yet I view the Greenspan Fed’s reaction to the 1987 stock market crash as the defining genesis of today’s fateful global Credit Bubble.

The Fed’s explicit assurances of marketplace liquidity came at a critical juncture for the evolution to market-based finance. Declining bond yields by 1987 had helped spur rapid expansion in corporate bonds, GSE securitizations, commercial paper, securities financing (i.e. “repos,” Fed funds, funding corps) and derivative trading (i.e. “portfolio insurance”). Post-crash accommodation ensured that the Federal Reserve looked the other way as Bubbles proliferated in junk bonds, leveraged buyouts and commercial and residential real estate on both coasts. Continue reading

The Adjustment Cycle

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

Crude has rallied about 5% off of last month’s lows. The Brazilian real closed Friday at 3.90, having posted a decent rally from the January closing low of 4.16 to the dollar. Brazilian equities have bounced about 10%. This week saw Brazil’s currency rally 2.4%. In general, EM currencies and equities have somewhat stabilized, notably outperforming this week. Stocks posted gains in Brazil, Turkey and China. From Bloomberg: “Yuan in Longest Weekly Rally Since 2014 as China Raises Rhetoric.” The dollar index this week dropped 2.6%, which most would have expected to lend some market support.

If crude, commodities, EM, the strong dollar and the weak yuan were weighing on global market confidence, why is it that global financial stocks have of late taken such a disconcerting turn for the worse?

Thursday headlines: “Credit Suisse posts first loss since 2008”; “Credit Suisse shares crash to 24-year low.” This week saw Credit Suisse sink 15.2%, pushing y-t-d losses to 30.4%. European financial stocks continue to get hammered, some now trading near 2009 lows. Notably, Societe Generale this week fell 8.7% (down 25% y-t-d), Credit Agricole 6.1% (down 21%) and Deutsche Bank 5.2% (down 30%). From Bloomberg’s Tom Beardsworth: “Credit-default swaps tied to subordinated debt issued by Deutsche Bank rose to the highest since July 2012…” The STOXX Europe 600 Bank Index dropped 6.2% this week, boosting y-t-d declines to 19.9%. FTSE Italia All-Shares Bank Index sank 10.1%, increasing 2016 losses to 30.6%.

February 4 – Bloomberg (Tom Beardsworth): “European banks and insurers’ financial credit risk rose to the highest in more than two years, following a $5.8 billion loss at Credit Suisse Group AG and signs of a slowdown in the global economy. The cost of insuring subordinated debt climbed by 19 bps to 254 bps, the highest since July 2013, based on the Markit iTraxx Europe Subordinated Financial Index. An index of credit-default swaps tracking senior financial debt jumped six bps to 110 bps. Both indexes have risen for six days in a row…” Continue reading

About Resuscitation and Reinstatement

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

“Shock and awe” is not quite what it used to be. It still carries a punch, especially for traders long the Japanese yen or short EM and stocks. The yen surged 2% against the dollar (more vs. EM) Friday on the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) surprising move to negative interest rates. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has a penchant for startling the markets. Less than two weeks ago he stated that the BOJ was not considering adopting negative rates. It wasn’t all that long ago that central bankers treasured credibility.

For seven years, I’ve viewed global rate policies akin to John Law’s (1720 France) desperate move to hold his faltering paper money and Credit scheme (Mississippi Bubble period) together by devaluing competing hard currencies (zero and now negative rates devalue “money”). It somewhat delayed the devastating day of reckoning. Postponement made it better for a fortunate few and a lot worse for everyone else.

Last week saw dovish crisis management vociferation from the ECB’s Draghi. Now the BOJ adopts a crisis management stance. The week also had talk of some deal to reduce global crude supply. Meanwhile, the Bank of China injected a weekly record $105 billion of new liquidity. Nonetheless, the Shanghai Composite sank 6.1% to a 13-month low. There was desperation in the air – along with a heck of a short squeeze and general market mayhem.

Markets these days have every reason to question the efficacy of global monetary management. It’s certainly reasonable to be skeptical of OPEC – too many producers desperate for liquidity. The Chinese are flailing – conspicuously. As for the BOJ’s move, it does confirm the gravity of global financial instability. It as well supports the view that, even within the central bank community, confidence in the benefits of QE has waned.

After three years of unthinkable BOJ government debt purchases, Japanese inflation expectations have receded and the economy has weakened. Lowering rates slightly to negative 10 bps (for new reserve deposits) passed by a slim five to four vote margin. With the historic global QE experiment having badly strayed from expectations, there is today no consensus as to what to try next.

Kuroda remains keenly focused on the yen. After orchestrating a major currency devaluation, there now seems little tolerance for even a modest rally. The popular consensus view sees BOJ policymaking through the perspective of competitive currency devaluation, with the objectives of bolstering exports and countering deflationary forces. I suspect Kuroda’s (fresh from Davos) current yen fixation is more out of fear that a strengthening Japanese currency risks spurring unwinds of myriad variations of yen “carry trades” (short/borrowing in yen to finance higher-yielding securities globally) – de-leveraging that is in the process of wreaking havoc on global securities markets. Continue reading

Draghi Ready to Fight

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

A few Friday Bloomberg headlines: “Asian Stocks Jump by Most in Four Months on Stimulus Speculation;” “Japanese Stocks Surge by Most in Four Months as Bears Retreat;” “Hong Kong Dollar Jumps Most in 12 Years as Global Stocks Rally.” It was quite a week.

Back in early December I posited that Mario Draghi had evolved into the world’s most powerful central banker. I also stated my view that his inability to orchestrate a larger ECB QE program was likely an inflection point in the markets’ confidence in Draghi and central banking more generally. Mario’s not going down without a fight.

Global markets were too close to dislocating this week. Wednesday saw the S&P500 trade decisively below August lows. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index sank to test November 2014 lows. Emerging stocks fell to six-year lows, with European equities at 13-month lows. Wednesday also saw WTI crude trade below $27 (sinking almost 7%), boosting y-t-d losses to 25%. Credit spreads were blowing out, and currency markets were increasingly disorderly. Early Thursday trading saw the Russian ruble down 5.3% (at a record low vs. dollar), with Brazil’s real also under intense pressure. The Hong Kong dollar peg was looking vulnerable. The VIX traded to the highest level since the August “flash crash,” while the Japanese yen traded to one-year highs (vs. $). De-risking/de-leveraging dynamics were quickly overwhelming global markets.

The Italian banking sector sank 7% Wednesday, pushing y-t-d losses above 20% (down 32% from 2015 highs). Fears of mounting bad loans and undercapitalization have been weighing on Italian and European bank shares and bonds. This week also saw a notable widening of sovereign spreads to bunds. Despite a post-Draghi narrowing of risk premiums, Italian spreads to bunds widened another seven bps this week, with Portuguese spreads blowing out 35 bps. A fragile European financial sector was rapidly succumbing to a deepening global financial crisis.

January 21 – Financial Times (Claire Jones and Elaine Moore): “Mario Draghi signalled that the European Central Bank is prepared to launch a fresh round of monetary stimulus as soon as March, bolstering a recovery on US and European equities in the wake of heavy losses this year. The ECB president said it would ‘review and possibly reconsider’ its monetary policy stance at its next meeting in six weeks… ‘We are not surrendering in front of these global factors,’ he said, referring to the China slowdown and the falling oil price that have destabilised global markets in recent weeks. The ECB has ‘the power, the willingness, the determination to act, and the fact that there are no limits to our action’ to bring inflation up to its target of just below 2%, he added. Policymakers, he said, would ‘absolutely reject’ attempts to derail their efforts to raise inflation ‘without undue delay’.” Continue reading

Cracks at the Core of the Core

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

January 15 – Bloomberg (Matthew Boesler): “The U.S. economy should continue to grow faster than its potential this year, supporting further interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve, New York Fed President William C. Dudley said. ‘In terms of the economic outlook, the situation does not appear to have changed much” since the Fed’s Dec. 15-16 meeting, Dudley said, in remarks prepared for a speech Friday… He added that he continues ‘to expect that the economy will expand at a pace slightly above its long-term trend in 2016,’ and said future rate increases would depend on incoming economic data.”

January 15 – Reuters (Ann Saphir): “The stock market’s swoon does not change the economic outlook and is merely market participants trying to make sense of global developments, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams told reporters… ‘As the Fed is moving gradually through a process of normalization it’s not surprising that we are not going to be at the peak stock prices’ of last year, Williams said. So far swings in stock market prices have not fundamentally changed his expectation for moderate economic growth, he said.”

The world has changed significantly – perhaps profoundly – over recent weeks. The Shanghai Composite has dropped 17.4% over the past month (Shenzhen down 21%). Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 8.2% over the past month, with Hang Seng Financials sinking 11.9%. WTI crude is down 26% since December 15th. Over this period, the GSCI Commodities Index sank 12.2%. The Mexican peso has declined almost 7% in a month, the Russian ruble 10% and the South African rand 12%. A Friday headline from the Financial Times: “Emerging market stocks retreat to lowest since 09.”

Trouble at the “Periphery” has definitely taken a troubling turn for the worse. Hope that things were on an uptrend has confronted the reality that things are rapidly getting much worse. This week saw the Shanghai Composite sink 9.0%. Major equities indexes were hit 8.0% in Russia and 5.0% in Brazil (Petrobras down 9%). Financial stocks and levered corporations have been under pressure round the globe. The Russian ruble sank 4.0% this week, increasing y-t-d losses versus the dollar to 7.1%. The Mexican peso declined another 1.8% this week. The Polish zloty slid 2.8% on an S&P downgrade (“Tumbles Most Since 2011”). The South African rand declined 3.0% (down 7.9% y-t-d). The yen added 0.2% this week, increasing 2016 gains to 3.0%. With the yen up almost 4% versus the dollar over the past month, so-called yen “carry trades” are turning increasingly problematic.

Importantly, the past month has seen contagion effects from the collapsing Bubble at the Periphery penetrate the Fragile Core. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was down 7.6% over the past month. While bubbling securities markets have worked to underpin European economic recovery, now prepare for the downside. The German DAX is off 11% in the first two weeks of 2016, with stocks in Spain and Italy also sporting double-digit declines. France’s CAC 40 has fallen 9.2% y-t-d. And highlighting a key Issue 2016, European bonds have provided little offsetting protection against major equities market losses. So far in 2016, German bund yields are down only eight bps. Yields are little changed in Spain and Italy. Sovereign yields are up 20 bps in Portugal and 130 bps in Greece. European corporate debt has posted small negative returns so far in 2016. Continue reading

Issues 2016

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

January 8 – CNBC (Ritika Shah): “Billionaire investor Mark Cuban is ‘doing nothing’ about the market sell-off. In his latest note to his ‘dusters’—a term for users of the Cyber Dust app that he advises and funds—Cuban revealed his investment strategy. ‘While all the selling seems to be based on China and the price of oil, I really don’t know what the long term implications for our stock market is,’ he wrote… ‘So I follow the number one rule of investing. When you don’t know what to do. Do nothing.’”

It’s being called the worst start for global securities markets ever. The Shanghai Composite was down a quick 10% this week. Japan’s Nikkei sank 7.0%. Hong Kong’s financial index dropped 8.7%. Germany’s (investor “darling”) DAX equities index was slammed for 8.3%. Here at home, the S&P fell a relatively moderate 6.0%. Biotechs sank 10%. Gloomily, the financials (banks and broker/dealers) were down almost double-digits. The small caps were hit for 8%. The Nasdaq100 fell 7%. “FANG” was defanged.

Credit spreads widened across the board. With “money” flowing out of bond funds, even top-tier bonds are now feeling the effects. Investment-grade spreads widened this week to a three-year high. It was another tough week for high-risk corporate debt.

Currency markets commenced the year in disarray. The yen jumped 2.7% against the dollar, surpassing August tumult-period highs. Borrowing in cheap yen to finance leveraged holdings in higher-yielding currencies was a fiasco. The Australian and New Zealand dollars were down almost 5%. Some key EM currencies were under intense pressure. The Mexican peso fell 3.9%, the South African rand 4.8%, the Russian ruble 3.1%, the Turkish lira 3.6%, the Chilean peso 2.9%, the Colombian peso 2.9%, the Singapore dollar 2.4% and the Malaysian ringgit 2.3%. China’s yuan declined 1.6% against the dollar.

WTI crude was down 10.5% to a new 12-year low. After sinking 26% in 2015, the Goldman Sachs Commodities Index fell 5.2% to begin 2016. Ten-year Treasury yields declined a modest 13 bps, with fixed-income this week offering little protection against major losses throughout global risk markets. Benefiting from safe haven status, bullion surged 4.1%. Conversely, copper sank 5.3% to an almost seven-year low.

It was an ominous beginning to what is poised to be a most tumultuous year. Market participants are quickly coming to appreciate that China does in fact matter. Few understand why. Most – from billionaires to fund managers to retail investors – will “Do Nothing.” This has worked just fine in the past – repeatedly. Not understanding and not doing anything will be detriments going forward. Continue reading

2015 Year in Review

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

The year 2015 was extraordinary. Incredibly, despite powerful confirmation of the bursting global Bubble thesis, market optimism remained deeply entrenched. All leading strategists surveyed in December by Barron’s remained bullish – some were borderline crazy optimistic.

Optimism withstood a commodity price collapse. Crude, the world’s most important commodity, crashed almost 35% to an eleven-year low, much to the peril of scores of highly leveraged companies and countries. The Bloomberg Commodities Index dropped 25%, its fifth straight year of declines. Copper fell 24%, with platinum and palladium down about 30%. In agriculture commodities, wheat fell 20%, with soybeans and corn down about 10%. Coffee sank 25%. Debacle.

Bullishness persevered through deepening EM turmoil and a crisis of confidence. The Brazilian real dropped about a third (worst year since 2002), and Brazil’s sovereign debt suffered major losses. Brazil’s corporate debt market was pummeled (Petrobras, Vale, BTG, Samarco, etc.) while confidence in the nation’s major banks and government waned. Russia and Turkey showed further deterioration. Fragility surfaced in EM linchpin Mexico. Currencies suffered generally throughout EM – Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, etc. Collapsing currency peg regimes saw almost 50% devaluations for the Azerbaijani manat and Kazakh tenge. Argentina devalued the peso 30% versus the dollar. Throughout EM, dollar-denominated debt became a market concern.

Optimism survived the major financial tumult that unfolded in China. Early 2015 stimulus efforts stoked “Terminal Phase” excess in Chinese equities, a Bubble that came crashing down in a 40% summer drubbing. An August yuan devaluation destabilized markets across the globe. Aggressive (invasive) monetary, fiscal and regulatory measures somewhat stabilized equities and the yuan, at the heavy cost of extending “Terminal Phase” excess throughout the Credit system (i.e. corporate debt and “shadow banking”). The yuan posted a 4.5% 2015 decline against the dollar, the worst performance since 1994. The “offshore yuan” trading in Hong Kong dropped 5.3%.

Bullishness endured despite the August global market “flash crash.” While the summer market dislocation provided important confirmation of mounting fragilities throughout the markets on a global basis, the bulls interpreted the event as further validating their view of unwavering central bank support and liquidity backstops. The Fed’s September flip-flop emboldened speculative excess, with U.S. equities back within striking distance of record highs by early-November. Continue reading

Plausible Bubbles Abound

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

They finally did it – 25 bps, for the first rate increase since 2004. Surely it’s the most dovish Fed “tightening” ever. Indeed, it was really no tightening at all. One has to go all the way back to 1994 for the last time the Federal Reserve commenced a true tightening cycle. That episode proved so destabilizing that the Federal Reserve assured the markets that they’d learned their lesson. And this (dovish and market-pandering) mindset was fundamental to the little baby step rate increases that ensured no tightening of financial conditions throughout the historic 2002-2007 mortgage finance Bubble inflation.

This week’s policy move will be debated for years to come. Lost in the debate is how the Fed (along with global central bankers) found itself stuck at zero for seven years (with a $4.5 TN balance sheet) and then saw it necessary to move to raise rates in the most gingerly, market-pleasing approach imaginable.

Traditionally, tightening cycles are necessary to counter mounting excess, including ill-advised lending, speculating and investing. Rate increases back in 1994 exposed what had been a dangerous expansion in speculative leveraging, derivatives and market-based Credit (at home and abroad). With the “bond” market in disarray and Mexico at the precipice, the Greenspan Fed turned its attention to bolstering the markets and non-bank Credit more generally.

Market-based Credit is unstable. This remains the fundamental issue – the harsh reality – that no one dares confront. I would strongly argue that long-term stability in a Capitalistic system requires sound money and Credit (hopelessly archaic, I admit). Over the years, I’ve tried to differentiate traditional finance from unfettered “New Age” finance. The former, bank lending-dominated Credit, was generally contained by various mechanisms (including the gold standard, effective currency regimes, bank capital and reserve requirements, etc.). This is in stark contrast to the current-day securities market-based global financial “system” uniquely operating without restraints on either the quantity or quality of Credit created. Continue reading

The Precipice

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

Global markets have found themselves again at the precipice. My sense is that everyone’s numb – literally dazed and confused from prolonged Monetary Disorder and the resulting perverted market backdrop. Repeatedly, “The Precipice” has signaled easy-money buying and trading opportunities. Again and again, selling, shorting and hedging at “The Precipice” guaranteed you were to soon look (and feel) like an absolute moron – for some, progressively poorer dunces the Bubble was pushing yet another step closer to serious dilemmas (financial, professional, personal and otherwise). A focus on risk became irrational. Fixation on seeking potential market rewards turned all-encompassing.

All of this will prove a challenge to explain to future generations. Keynes: “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for the reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.” And paraphrasing the great Charles Kindleberger: Nothing causes as much angst as to see your neighbor (associate or competitor) get rich. In short, Bubbles are all powerful.

Going back to those darks days in late-2008, global policymakers have been determined to not let the markets down. Along the way they made things too easy. “Do whatever it takes!” “Shock and Awe!” “Ready to push back against a market tightening of financial conditions.” “Do what we must to raise inflation as quickly as possible.” Historic market excess and distortions were incentivized and, predictably, things ran amuck. “QE infinity.” Seven years of zero rates, massive monetary inflation and incessant market backstopping have desensitized and anesthetized. Rational thought ultimately succumbed to “perpetual money machine” quackery. And now all of this greatly increases vulnerability to destabilizing market dislocations, as senses are restored and nerves awakened. Continue reading

The Cult of Draghi

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

Friday’s 370-point surge in the DJIA quickly erased memories of the previous day’s rough session throughout global financial markets. It’s worth noting, however, that the euro gave back little of Thursday’s spectacular 3.1% surge, the biggest daily gain versus the dollar since March 2009. Additional Friday losses made for a terrible week in European equities.

With a view that Thursday’s important policy developments and market reactions are best not expunged from our analytical consciousness, it’s worth a brief market recap. Beyond the wild moves in now highly unstable currency markets, European market vulnerability was again on full display. Core euro-area equities indices suffered their biggest selloff since September. Thursday’s session saw the German DAX hit for 3.58%. France’s CAC40 also fell 3.58%, while Spain’s IBEX 35 index dropped 2.41% and Italy’s MIB sank 2.47%. For the week, the German DAX sank 4.8% and French CAC40 dropped 4.4%.

Thursday’s session was also notable for the simultaneous declines in both stock and bond prices, an atypical dynamic especially problematic for so-called leveraged “risk parity” strategies. Ten-year Treasury yields jumped 15 bps (to 2.33%). Bond carnage was worse in the eurozone. German bund yields surged 20 bps (66 bps), with yields up 21 bps in France (99 bps), 25 bps in Italy (1.64%), 24 bps in Spain (1.72%), and 22 bps in Portugal (2.47%).

Despite Friday’s rally, it was a disconcerting week – in global markets, in geopolitics and for a darkening of the “social mood.” It’s worth noting that crude (WTI) traded below $40 on Friday, ending the week down 3.8% to a near 11-year low. Turkish equities were down another 1.8% this week, increasing three-week declines to 9.3%. Further selling pressure in Russian stocks pushed two-week losses to 3.9%. The Russian ruble dropped another 2.4%, ending the week at the lowest level since early-September. Brazilian stocks have dropped 5.8% over two weeks, trading near September lows. Mexican stocks dropped 2.8% this week to the lowest level since early-October. Dropping 3.1%, the Colombian peso traded near August lows. Continue reading

Monetary Fiasco

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

All great monetary fiascoes are forged upon a foundation of misperceptions and flawed premises. There’s always an underlying disturbance in money and Credit masked by supposed new understandings, technologies, capabilities and superior financial apparatus.

During the nineties “New Paradigm” period, exciting new technologies and “globalization” were seen unleashing a productivity miracle. The Greenspan Fed believed this afforded the economy an accelerated speed limit. With inflation and federal deficits believed conquered, there was little risk associated with low interest rates and an “asymmetrical” policy approach to supporting the booming economy and financial markets. The Fed significantly loosened the reins on finance precisely when they needed to be tightened.

The nineties were phenomenal from a financial perspective. Total system Debt about doubled to $25.4 TN. Remarkably, Financial Sector borrowings surged more than 200% to $8.2 TN. Outstanding Agency (GSE) securities ballooned from $1.267 TN to end the decade at $3.916 TN, for growth of 209%. Securities Broker/Dealers (liabilities) jumped 212% to $1.73 TN. “Fed Fund and Repo” expanded 112% to $1.655 TN. Wall Street “Funding Corps” rose 387% to $1.064 TN. Securities Credit surged 414% to $611 billion.

And the most incredible aspect of the nineties boom in “Wall Street Finance”? Pertinent to today’s backdrop, the 1990’s Bubble unfolded over years with barely a notice. Everyone was mesmerized by the Internet, exciting new technologies and the white-hot IPO market. I was fixated by what I was convinced was evolving into epic financial innovation and a historic Credit Bubble. Yet attempts to explain this backdrop to other financial professionals, academics, economists, journalists and even Fed officials went absolutely nowhere. Repeatedly I heard frustrating variations of “Doug, you don’t understand.” “Only banks create Credit.” “The Federal Reserve controls the money supply.” “Fannie and Freddie are only financial intermediaries – they don’t impact system Credit.” “Financial system borrowings don’t matter. Doug, you’re double-counting debt.”

Even back in the nineties, it was largely ideological. Everyone had adopted a doctrine of how finance worked and it was very rare that someone would take a deep dive into developments and the analysis and then challenge orthodoxy. As I’ve noted in the past, it was not until Paul McCulley coined “shadow banking” in 2007 that analysts and policymakers belatedly began to take notice. Continue reading

Risk Off?

Submitted by Doug Noland – Credit Bubble Bulletin 

The “Granddaddy of All Bubbles” thesis rests upon the view that the world is in the midst of the precarious grand finale of a multi-decade global Credit and financial Bubble. When a Bubble bursts, system reflation requires an even larger fresh new Bubble. This has repeatedly been the case going back at least to the “decade of greed” late-eighties Bubble in the U.S. These days the world confronts the terminal Bubble phase partially because of the unprecedented scope of the China and EM Bubbles. It’s simply difficult to imagine another more far-reaching Bubble.

Also critical to the finale Bubble thesis is that the “global government finance Bubble” – encompassing unprecedented excesses in sovereign debt, central bank Credit and government market manipulation – has engulfed the very foundation of contemporary “money” and Credit. It’s again quite a challenge to envisage a new financial Bubble inflation cycle following a crisis of confidence at the heart of global finance.

As I’ve posited repeatedly, the global Bubble has been pierced. There’s more confirmation again this week.  The collapse in commodities and EM currencies along with the faltering Chinese financial Bubble mark an historic inflection point. Global policymakers have gone to incredible measures to stabilize market, financial and economic backdrops. Yet reflationary measures will continue to only further destabilize.

When policy-induced “risk on” is overpowering global securities markets, fragilities remain well concealed (and my prognosis appears ridiculous). Fragilities, however, swiftly manifest with the reappearance of “risk off.”  Rather quickly securities markets demonstrate their proclivity for illiquidity and so-called “flash crashes.” So after an unsettled week in global markets, the critical issue is whether “risk on” is giving way to “risk off” dynamics.

There is no doubt that a powerful “risk off” has again gripped commodities markets. Crude (WTI) sank 8.5% this week to $40.71, the low since the tumultuous August period. The “GSCI” Commodities Index dropped 4.0% this week, increasing 2015 losses to almost 19% while trading down to near August lows. The Bloomberg Commodities Index sank to an almost 16-year low. Copper prices this week sank 3.6%, trading to a new six-year low. Zinc also traded to a six-year low, with nickel at a five-year low. Unleaded gasoline dropped almost 10%. Wheat fell 5.3% and Corn dropped 4.0%.

With commodities succumbing to another leg in an increasingly brutal bear market, worries quickly returned to EM. The Brazilian real declined 2.1% this week and the Colombian peso sank 6.4%. The Russian ruble fell 3.5% and the South African rand declined 1.6%. Mexican stocks were hit 3.6%.

November 9 – Bloomberg (Taylor Hall): “Debt in developing markets is estimated to have reached $58.6 trillion at the start of 2015, with credit in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand exceeding that of Latin America, emerging Europe and the Middle East, according to the Institute of International Finance. Emerging-market debt has grown $28 trillion since 2009, according to the IIF… Global debt has soared $50 trillion during the period to surpass a total of $240 trillion, or 320% of gross domestic product, in early 2015. While credit has increased for almost all countries included in the new monitor over the past decade, debt-to-GDP ratios in developing Asia for non-financial corporate, household and financial corporate sectors have risen the most… Non-financial corporate sector debt in emerging markets has risen $13 trillion since 2009, increasing more than five-fold over the past decade to surpass $23.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2015. The advance has been most concentrated in emerging Asia, where it rose to 125% of GDP.”

And with market attention seemingly returning to the world’s precarious debt overhang, “developing” Asian equities were hit hard this week. Stocks were down 4.2% in Taiwan (TAIEX), 2.8% in Singapore (STI), 2.8% in Thailand (SET), 3.1% in the Philippines (SE IDX), 2.1% in Indonesia (Jakarta Comp) and 1.6% in Malaysia (KLCI). Australian stocks (ASX 200) were hit 3.1% and New Zealand stocks (NZX 20) fell 1.7%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Financial index dropped 2.6%, increasing its 2015 decline to 30.4%.

Disappointing Chinese economic data (imports, exports, producer inflation, etc.) already had investors on edge. A (rapidly?) deteriorating corporate Credit backdrop was beginning to cause angst. And then Thursday’s Chinese Credit data was stunningly disappointing. October saw total Credit growth (“Total Social Financing”) cut by more than half. After September’s jump to $204bn, Credit growth slowed sharply to $75bn, the weakest month of Credit expansion since July 2014. New bank loans, at $81bn, were less than half of September’s $165bn. This is insufficient Credit to hold bust at bay.

In short order, confidence that Chinese policymakers have everything under control has begun to wane. The view that Beijing can simply dictate Credit growth through mandates to the big state-directed lenders is being shaken by anecdotes of increasingly nervous bankers and cautious borrowers. Suddenly there’s talk of the Chinese “pushing on a string.”

When global markets are in a bullish mood, commodities and EM currencies appear to have bottomed. Yields on energy, commodities and deep cyclical company debt around the globe seem enticing. “Developing” country debt is attractively priced. Chinese officials seem capable of ensuring 6.5% growth as far as the eye can see. China enjoys the capacity to stabilize its currency, inflation level and debt load. And stable Chinese growth will backstop commodities markets, EM markets and economies and the global economy (and markets!) more generally.

But this optimistic view of things turns flimsy in a hurry. When crude and commodities begin to tank, large quantities of debt (company, country and financial) look increasingly suspect. King dollar takes off, putting added pressure on faltering commodities and EM (currencies, debt and stocks) Bubbles. And with the Chinese currency pegged to king dollar, the markets’ view of the China Credit situation can abruptly shift from “manageable” to “potentially very troubling.”

And returning to the “Granddaddy Bubble Finale” thesis, the Chinese and EM Bubbles fundamentally changed the “producer” and “consumer” inflationary backdrops. Ultra-loose global finance has ensured massive overcapacity in too many things. It has created an unprecedented divergence between bubbling financial markets and weakening fundamental prospects. There’s way too much debt almost everywhere, a debt burden that central bankers would like to inflate away to more manageable levels. The Chinese are desperate for inflation to grow out of historic amounts of debt. They’ve been able to inflate out of debt troubles previously, and they’ve watched U.S. reflationary measures work their magic repeatedly.

The bursting global Bubble is especially problematic for China. EM currencies have been devalued, while the U.S. and Chinese currencies have skyrocketed. The old reflationary measures no longer work. Loose “money” only exacerbates overcapacity, inequalities and financial Bubbles. The strong dollar further pressures global pricing, while adding to heightened Credit stress globally (certainly including EM dollar-denominated debt). Meanwhile, China’s currency peg to the dollar ensures the already vulnerable Chinese manufacturing complex becomes further uncompetitive. It ensures major problems related to the country’s enormous lending and investing boom in global resources. The resulting Credit stress only exacerbates disinflationary pricing pressures.

In 2014 and again in August, it appeared China was to commence meaningful currency devaluation. In both instances acute financial stress forced Chinese officials to immediately backtrack. Trying to recover from the August fiasco, the Chinese have focused on currency stability. And when markets are in that optimistic state of mind, Chinese policy appears sensible and sustainable. But when “risk off” begins to take hold, China’s mountains of overcapacity and debt appear completely at odds with a strong currency – with a peg to king dollar – in a disinflationary global environment.

It wasn’t only commodities and EM that succumbed to “risk off” this week. European stocks were down about 3%. U.S. stocks had a really rough week. The S&P500 declined 3.6%, with the broader market down even more. Selling was broad-based. Credit spreads also widened, most notably in high-yield. Junk bond funds saw flows reverse to sizable outflows. There were anecdotes of waning demand for leveraged loans, high-yield municipal debt and risky Credits more generally. Puerto Rico… Hedge fund performance… This is all consistent with heightened risk aversion and self-reinforcing pressure to de-leverage.

Confidence was so high that the bulls had essentially already taken a big year-end rally to the bank. “Risk off” into December would catch the bullish consensus completely flatfooted. “Risk off” would also catch most market operators un-hedged and over-exposed on the long side. “Risk off” would also complicate life for the Fed. Just when they had finally gathered the nerve to move, global markets turn sour. And perhaps the Fed has been whipsawed by the markets one too many times. But I still think global markets are being dictated much more by China than the Fed. And at this point, Chinese officials have the much more difficult decisions. Do they bite the bullet and start devaluing? Or do they stick with the peg and hope?

My Friday writing has been interrupted by the news of terrible terrorist attacks in Paris. It’s a reminder of the increasingly hostile world in which we live. And it’s consistent with a darkening of the social mood in Europe, as well as here in the U.S. and around the world more generally. It’s also part of the troubling backdrop conducive to a problematic “risk off” when faith in global central bankers and Chinese officials wanes.

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