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August 05 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Hearts of Glass

This edition of Tim Price’s letter for Price Value Partners may of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

God only knows what the historians of the future will make of 2020. A global flu panic that results in countries shutting down entire economies sounds like the pinnacle of craziness – until you discover that Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries was periodically prone to something called the ‘glass delusion’, in which sufferers believed that they were made of glass and at risk of shattering into pieces. The French King Charles VI was one of the higher profile victims of the illness, and he would reportedly wrap himself in blankets to prevent his buttocks from breaking. Because human nature never really changes, we choose to allocate to uncorrelated investment vehicles known as systematic trend-followers, which make no attempt to predict the future, or to avoid seeming overvaluation, but which are simply content to ride such price trends as appear from time to time, both up and down, courtesy of the interests and enthusiasms of the mob.

We also allocate, at present, to precious metals-related companies, provided we can secure robust cash flows in the process from businesses trading on comparatively modest earnings multiples, and with little or no debt. As George Bernard Shaw once remarked,

“You have to choose (as a voter) between trusting to the natural stability of gold and the natural stability of the honesty and intelligence of the members of the Government. And, with due respect for these gentlemen, I advise you, as long as the Capitalist system lasts, to vote for gold.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Those gentlemen in government are primed to issue a vast quantity of debt. And why wouldn’t they? Interest rates are at historic lows and investors seem willing to invest in anything with a promise of a cashflow. The US Treasury is now stretching the maturity of outstanding debt which raises some important questions. 



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August 04 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Gold ETFs Top German Holdings to Become World's No. 2 Stash

This article by Ranjeetha Pakiam for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Investors are so concerned about the global outlook that worldwide holdings in gold-backed exchange-traded funds now stand behind only the official U.S. reserves of bullion after they surpassed Germany’s holdings.

Gold has rallied to a record this year as the coronavirus pandemic savaged growth, with gains supported by massive inflows into bullion-backed ETFs. Bulls are fearful that the waves of stimulus to fight the slowdown may debase paper currencies and ignite inflation. They also point to simmering geopolitical tensions, rising government debt burdens, and lofty equity valuations.

Worldwide holdings in gold-backed ETFs rose to 3,365.6 tons on Monday, up 30.5% this year, according to preliminary data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s a couple of tons ahead of Germany’s stash. U.S. reserves exceed 8,000 tons.

Even after futures topped $2,000 an ounce, there are plenty of forecasts for further, substantial gains. Among them, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says gold may climb to $2,300 as investors are “in search of a new reserve currency,” while RBC Capital Markets puts the odds of a rally to $3,000 at 40%.

Eoin Treacy's view -

China and India have historically been the biggest consumers of gold. However, prices are set by the marginal buyer. Right now, that is investment demand from ETFs which has jumped by more than 50% in the last 12 months. This is a totally fresh phenomenon. ETFs did not exist in prior cycles so it was impossible to estimate how much gold was owned by investors. It is reasonable to conclude that before this bull market has climaxed ETF holding will be the largest gold stockpile in the world.



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August 04 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

John Authers' Points of No return

This edition of the former Lex Column’s editor contains some interesting charts on the correlation between Fed intervention and stock market recoveries. Here is a section:

There is a negative correlation between what the S&P did a month ago and moves in the Fed’s balance sheet. In other words, if the S&P falls, we should expect the balance sheet to be increased about a month later. Once the Fed has made its change, we should expect the two to move in the same direction for the next month — a rising balance sheet raises the S&P, a shrinking balance sheet brings it down. The lag is clear; it takes about a month for a weak stock market to prod the Fed into a response, and once that response has been made the effect is felt in full a month later. 

So, the two are indeed related but with a lag. How strong is the link? The top chart shows us what we should expect the Fed to do in response to a 10% correction, while the lower chart shows the S&P 500’s response to a 10% shift in the balance sheet:

There was also — and this should surprise nobody — a marked asymmetry to the Fed’s actions. It responds to falls in the market with alacrity. It doesn’t seem to feel any great macro-prudential need to prick bubbles by comparison, and so the tendency to respond to a rise in stocks with a shrinking of the balance sheet, as seen at the end of Janet Yellen’s tenure and the beginning of Jerome Powell’s, was much weaker. In late 1996, less than two years before the “Put” era began with LTCM, Alan Greenspan was plainly worried about the possibility of asset bubbles, and uttered his famous warning of “irrational exuberance” (following through with a rise in rates that induced a minor stock market correction). Now, the idea of raising rates to curb share prices appears so outlandish to Powell that he said in June “we would never do this.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Fed is reluctant to intervene to slow or reverse the rise in asset prices for a very simple reason. They believe the easiest way to objectively measure the success of their policies is in asset prices.

The continued uptrend in bond, stock and property markets is viewed as positive from the Fed’s perspective because it signals efforts to stimulate risk taking behaviour are effective. Unfortunately, that way of thinking about markets pays little heed to egregious risk taking or the assumption bad behaviour will always be bailed out.



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August 04 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on a double dip

Read a very interesting piece in Saturday's Telegraph by financial journalist, Ambrose Evans Pritchard. In a nutshell he suggests that western governments risk making the most catastrophic error of economic policy since the thirties by pulling away the stimulus rug too soon. The pandemic is still causing havoc and stimulus is running out before the rebound can reach self-sustaining escape velocity. He suggests the crunch will come in September/October.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The prospect of stimulus being removed too early has made it onto the front page because of the politically motivated rancorous debate over extending the USA’s fiscal stimulus. It remains the base case that some form of agreement will be agreed to because neither party wants to be blamed for making the lives of tens of millions of unemployed people worse.  



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August 03 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Baupost Group Letter

Thanks to a subscriber for this letter by Seth Klarman and team. Here is a section focusing on appetite for risk:

Fed policy has been magnificently successful in achieving its objectives not only of lifting securities prices but also of altering investor behavior. The Fed wanted to influence buyers of securities to be bolder in their pursuit of return. The head of a major pension fund recently authored a piece describing how the fund had responded to lofty markets and low yields on safe debt instruments. Their reaction was not to lower the fund’s currently aggressive 7% risk-adjusted return objective to a more realistic threshold, but instead to direct more assets into “lower volatility” private investments while leveraging the portfolio. Private investments, of course, have the same underlying risk and inherent volatility as public investments – though because they are not publicly traded, their intermittent and privately determined appraisals may make them appear to be less volatile. And as for the choice to leverage up, we can only note that leverage is a double-edged sword that enhances returns in good times while sinking them in down markets. If markets falter, this fund will have not solved its problems but rather have multiplied them.  

Eoin Treacy's view -

Pension funds, life insurance companies and other firms with predictable future outlays are in a difficult position. If they do not take on additional risk, they will certainly not be able to meet their obligations. Alternatively, if they do take on additional risks, they might be able to reach their goals. However, that chance at success comes with the implied understanding that the alternative is financial oblivion.



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July 31 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

'An absolute necessity' Why this expert says China desperately needs a digital currency

This article by Veta Chan for Fortune.com may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

How will data be used by central banks and how will the central bank reassure people about the privacy of their data?

The data you are going to collect, there are two sides to it. On one side, the data that they're going to collect, given they are going to be able to engage the complete economic activity of a country in realtime, that data will be recorded on a blockchain-type network, distributed ledger, we don't know exactly. So the government will have access to all of that. On the [other] hand, it will enable the central bank to do their job more effectively. Because rather than having a lag in economic data, they're monitoring all the spending, the transactions, money supply, inflation implications, all in realtime... Tracking where people go in the world, because CBDC will be available to Chinese as they do business in other countries. It's almost a sort of a way to track an individual. So there are big alarming questions that need to be properly considered when it comes to privacy and anonymity.

The technology is there to enforce anonymity, but it's a question of are they going to implement it? Is that something that they're going to build into their currency? Time will only tell if different central banks come up with their versions of digital currency, as they say there is no one-size-fits-all, they're all going to be different and likely to reflect the values and culture of their citizens. Are we just going to accept that all governments get to have this data like we've kind of accepted with tech giants like Facebook? No one has really done anything about it.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A classic blockchain is a public ledger. There is a clear record of all transactions, but not who participated in them.

It would be comparatively easy for a state to create a digital currency that attaches identity to the ledger.

That will allow governments to track every transaction in even greater detail than they do already.



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July 30 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Big Numbers Along Make No Proper Monetary Policy

This report from DWS may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In some ways, however, that was the easy bit. The U.S. economy now enters a phase that cautiously could be described as the beginning of a recovery. However, remember that the virus is still out there. This leads to the question of how QE can continue to provide support in the months ahead? In terms of mechanics, the Fed describes the main purpose of LSAP as putting "[…] downward pressure on longer-term interest rates […]" in order to stimulate economic activity by generating attractive financial conditions.5 The key word behind those mechanics would be financial conditions. Such metrics generally try to describe the "[…] financial conditions in money markets, debt and equity markets […]" as the Federal Reserve of Chicago puts it.6 In other words, measures of financial conditions gauge the effectiveness of monetary policy.

Deriving a metric that summarizes the stance of monetary policy once the policy rate hits the Zero Lower Bound (ZLB) is not a trivial task, however. The monetary stimulus, as a combination of rates at the ZLB and asset purchases, is not directly observable. Our preferred methodology to overcome this problem would be the so called shadow short rate (SSR) as provided through the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.7 This concept mathematically derives a theoretical policy rate which is based on the evolution of the whole yield curve, therefore accounting for the impact of QE once the true policy rate is at the ZLB (see Chart 2).

Eoin Treacy's view -

Using the inflation of financial assets as a way of measuring the success of monetary accommodation is a recipe for bubble inflation. Nevertheless, it is the most expedient way to measure the impact of a central bank’s actions in fostering growth.



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July 28 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Coronavirus Stimulus Plan Splits Senate Republicans

This article from the Wall Street Journal may be to interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

The stimulus debate pits the GOP’s political pragmatists against its spending hawks, with the fate of swing-state incumbents hanging in the balance: At-risk Republican senators don’t want to return to the campaign trail during the August recess empty-handed, while fiscal conservatives recoil at any plan that they see as ballooning the deficit and conditioning the public to expect broader government assistance once the pandemic is over.

At stake could be control of the Senate and White House, some Republicans warn. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report last week released a new analysis of key Senate races that for the first time this cycle favored Democrats to take back the chamber.

Democrats already control the House and are expected to keep or expand their majority in November, making the GOP-held Senate a critical bulwark against total Democratic control of the legislature next year. Democrats need to flip three seats from red to blue to seize control of the chamber in November, or four if President Trump wins re-election.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The massive stimulus introduced during the initial lockdown with $1200 for the majority of adults and $600 a week for millions of unemployed people plugged a significant hole in consumer spending potential. It also allowed ecommerce businesses to flourish and gain market share.



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July 28 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day - on inflationary expectations

Thanks to your good guidance, the month of July has (already) produced the best portfolio performance in my life-time of investing! The portfolio switch from NDX stocks to gold and silver stocks has been phenomenal (20.59% in one stock today).

Attached is a report from “Goldmoney” regarding future inflation that you have addressed in recent commentaries.  (Underlining in the article is mine) Could we expect a sudden change in the Velocity of Money to facilitate an inflationary outcome or will other factors cause inflation regardless of the VoM?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this interesting article and congratulations on taking opportunities in the market. Velocity of Money is a major component of inflation. The fact it has been falling for so long is one of the primary reasons we have not seen widespread inflation resulting from massive money printing over the last 12 years.



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July 22 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Big Cycle of the United States and the Dollar, Part 2

This latest chapter of Ray Dalio’s book includes a number of interesting titbits to chew over. Here is a section:

The US dollar accounts for over 50% of reserves held and has unwaveringly remained the primary reserve currency since 1945, especially after it replaced gold as the most-held reserve asset after there was a move to a fiat monetary system.  European currencies have remained steady at 20-25% since the late 1970s, the yen and sterling are around 5%, and the Chinese RMB is only 2%, which is far below its share of world trade and world economic size, for reasons we will delve into in the Chinese section of this book.  As has been the case with the Dutch guilder and the British pound, the status of the US dollar has significantly lagged and is significantly greater than other measures of its power.

That means that if the US dollar were to lose its reserve status and significantly depreciate in value it would have a devastating effect on the finances of those countries holding those reserves as well as private-sector holders of dollar-debt assets.  Who would be the winners?  Those with dollar-debt liabilities and those with non-dollar assets would be the big winners.  In the concluding chapter, “The Future,” we will explore what such a shift might look like. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The massive increase in the supply of currency since the end of the quantitative tightening regime last year is a headwind for the US Dollar. The fact the monetary and fiscal assistance programs deployed by the USA are much larger than in other countries is certainly a near-term headwind for the Dollar but the big question is whether this is a secular change?



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July 21 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Wall Street Is Throwing Billions at Once-Shunned Gold Miners

This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

But junior miners are now starting to benefit. Take the case of American Pacific Mining Corp., an exploration and gold-mining firm with market capitalization of less than $20 million. The company raised $3 million in the second quarter, six times more than it had initially planned. Interest was so big that it had to turn away offers for more, said CEO Warwick Smith.

“The big boys play first, and then that money trickles down to the smaller companies, exploration companies,” he said. Revival Gold Inc., a Toronto-based exploration company, said Tuesday it was increasing its previously-announced public offering by C$3 million ($2.2 million) amid “strong demand” from investors. Spot gold prices rose 1.3% Tuesday to $1,841.94 an ounce, trading near the highest level in almost nine years.

The reasons that boosted the appeal of gold miners are the very same pushing investors away from companies digging for metals like copper or lithium, which are more dependent on economic growth. Base and industrial metals firms raised just $34 million in the second quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg showed. That’s a 40% decrease from the same period a year earlier.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Free cash flow became the bane of miners during the latter stages of the last gold bull market. They were borrowing money at such a prodigious rate and were so eager to build new production that any hope of profitability fell by the wayside. That contributed to significant underperformance relative to the gold price.



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July 20 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Out to pasture!

This is potentially Edward Ballsdon’s final post for his Grey Fire Horse blog and may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Recently there has been discussion about yield curve control (YCC), and whether the FED will introduce a new policy on managing interest rates. Do not be fooled - this is a rather large red herring, as the debt is now too large in the US (as it is in most major economies) to raise rates without the increased interest cost having a debilitating effect on annual government budget figures.

There is no longer $ 1trn of outstanding US federal Bills - in June the outstanding amount surpassed $ 5trn. If rates rise from 0.2% to 2%, the ANNUAL interest cost just on that segment of the outstanding $19trn debt would rise from ~$ 8.5bn to ~$ 102bn. Naturally you would also need to also factor in the impact of higher interest rate costs on leveraged households and corporates.

This is the red herring - the size of the debt will force monetary policy. To think that the central bank can raise rates means ignoring the consequence from the debt stock. And this is the root of my lower for longer view, which is obviously influenced from years of studying Japan, and which is now almost completely priced in to rates markets. Remember that the YCC in Japan led to a severe reduction of the BOJ buying of JGBs - it just did not have to.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Japanification of the developed world represents a massive challenge for investors in search of yield. 90% of all sovereign bonds have yields below 1% and the total of bonds with negative yields is back at $14 trillion and climbing.



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July 20 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

EU Closes In on Stimulus Deal With Major Obstacle Overcome

This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

After negotiating through the night, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden are satisfied with 390 billion euros ($450 billion) of the fund being made available as grants with the rest coming as low-interest loans, the officials said, asking not be named discussing private conversations. The total size of the recovery package is in flux, but an earlier proposal was for 750 billion euros.

The bloc’s 27 leaders will gather again at 4 p.m. in Brussels to settle the outstanding issues such as the overall size of the fund and the mechanisms for controlling its spending. A French official said that their delegation now see a path to a full deal.

“After lengthy talks last night, we worked out a framework for a possible agreement,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday. “It’s progress and gives hope that perhaps today an agreement will be made, or at least that an agreement is possible.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

€750 billion is a substantial aid package, but is rather small when compared to the measures taken by the USA. The reluctance of creditor nations to give money away, the length of time taken to negotiate the deal, and the fact the agreement has been reached following the peak infection point for Eurozone countries have contributed to the tailored size of the package.



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July 14 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Global Macro Outlook: Virus curve flattening, markets stabilizing, slow recovery

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsch Bank by Torsten Slok. It is loaded with thought provoking charts which may be of interest.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

I found the chart comparing the Swedish and US COVID-19 infection rate to be particularly interesting. It suggests that anything less than total adherence to social distancing, effective testing and contact tracing is ineffectual. That’s a challenge because while some Asian countries have been able to implement these types of protocols swiftly, not least because of their prior experience with SARS, it seems beyond the ability of most countries to do. With cases in Hong Kong and Australia rising it is looking increasingly likely this is going to be a long hard slog until a vaccine is widely available.



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July 13 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.K. Can't Inflate Debt Away, New Head of Fiscal Watchdog Says

This article by Alex Morales for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The chancellor and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have repeatedly said they’re not planning on pursuing austerity policies to rein in government spending, and for now Sunak has focused on preserving jobs to avoid long-term scarring of the economy. He unveiled a 30-billion pound stimulus program last week, and plans a wider package in a budget in the fall.

Hughes said while there are upside and downside risks to inflation, they’re tilted toward it remaining below the Bank of England’s 2% target. He also warned that the debts being built up by companies to tide them over the pandemic could end up becoming a burden that leads to scarring of the economy.

“One of the concerns that we’ve had is that the longer the crisis goes on for, the more likely government-guaranteed loans becomes less of a facilitator of the recovery and more of a burden,” he said. “The more the debt is a burden on companies the less they will invest. We know from past crises that one of the reasons you see longer-term scarring on the economy is you have foregone investment, and that scarring can be significant.”

He suggested one way to mitigate for that effect would be to tie repayments of the government-backed loans to a company’s earnings and profitability.

Hughes said high frequency data pointed to a “a bit of good news,” with April representing the low point for the economy and output contracting by about 25% instead of the 35% initially forecast by the OBR. The question is how quickly the economy gets back that loss.

Current OBR projections are based on Britain and the European Union striking a free-trade agreement. If talks fail and Britain is forced onto WTO rules when the current transition period ends in December, there will be adverse “consequences” for growth and the public finances, he said.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The biggest challenge for every country as we look beyond the coronavirus-induced crisis is in what manner the debt will be paid back and how a drag on recovery can be avoided. The clear answer is to refuse to raise interest rates regardless of how powerful the economy is. Following that up with additional spending measures, to placate restive populations is also likely to be part of the solution.



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July 08 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China Has Already Declared Cold War on the U.S

This article by Niall Ferguson for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Yet the book that has done the most to educate me about how China views America and the world today is, as I said, not a political text, but a work of science fiction. "The Dark Forest" was Liu Cixin’s 2008 sequel to the hugely successful "Three-Body Problem." It would be hard to overstate Liu’s influence in contemporary China: He is revered by the Shenzhen and Hangzhou tech companies, and was officially endorsed as one of the faces of 21st-century Chinese creativity by none other than … Wang Huning.

"The Dark Forest," which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.”

First, “Survival is the primary need of civilization.” Second, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.” Third, “chains of suspicion” and the risk of a “technological explosion” in another civilization mean that in space there can only be the law of the jungle. In the words of the book’s hero, Luo Ji: The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost … trying to tread without sound … The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them.

In this forest, hell is other people … any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. Kissinger is often thought of (in my view, wrongly) as the supreme American exponent of Realpolitik. But this is something much harsher than realism. This is intergalactic Darwinism.

Of course, you may say, it’s just sci-fi. Yes, but "The Dark Forest" gives us an insight into something we think too little about: how Xi’s China thinks. It’s not up to us whether or not we have a Cold War with China, if China has already declared Cold War on us. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Three Body Problem is an excellent read and The Dark Forest follows on well from where it left off. The third book in the series, Death’s End, was too meandering for me and I did not finish reading it. For a non-Chinese reader, the names can be a bit of an obstacle but the story is compelling.



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July 08 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Commodities and Predominant Deflation

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Bloomberg’s economists. Here is a section on gold:

Quantitative Easing Is Strong Gold Tailwind. Gold is in the early days of resuming the bull market that started about 20 years ago, in our view. The financial crisis and inception of central-bank quantitative easing (QE) accelerated the metal's upward trajectory then, and we see parallels that are likely more enduring this time. Our graphic depicts the potential upside in spot gold toward $3,000 an ounce vs. about $1,770 on June 26, if simply following the trajectory of the G4 central-bank balance sheet as a percent of GDP. Central banks essentially printing money to spur inflation is a solid foundation for the benchmark store of value.

Gold bottomed at about $700 in 2008 and peaked near $1,900 in 2011. A similar-velocity 2.7x advance from this year's low-close near $1,470 would approach $4,000 by 2023. Rising Stock-Market Volatility a Gold Launchpad. If gold's relationship with equity volatility that's mean-reverting higher and the financial crisis is a guide, the metal has plenty more upside potential vs. downside risks. Our graphic depicts the 100-week moving average of the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) bottoming from the life-of-index low in 2018, like it did in 2007 before the financial crisis and which accelerated gold's rally. There are potential parallels to about a decade ago. A key difference is the metal has had a substantial correction and appears to be in the early days of resuming a bull market.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Gold does best with negative real interest rates. That occurs when interest rates are held down because of fears of deflation, like now, and it also occurs when inflation advances quicker than central banks are willing to raise interest rates. That’s a scenario that could easily unfold in future considering the long-term repercussions of massive civil unrest and debt monetisation.  



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July 07 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

White House Wants Stimulus by August Recess With $1 Trillion Cap

This article by Jordan Fabian and Kevin Cirilli for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

President Donald Trump and senior White House officials have said a payroll tax cut, liability reform, tax incentives for businesses to adapt to the pandemic and a potential back-to-work bonus are priorities for the administration.

Short said the White House views liability protections as “essential” for companies to bring workers back and fully re-open the economy.

The administration wants to be sure it’s “striking the right balance between income replacement on the one hand, and ensuring that we don’t have excessively high implicit tax rates on the return to work, on the other hand,” Tyler Goodspeed, acting chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in a separate interview with Bloomberg Radio.

Implicit tax rates can’t exceed 100%, he said, meaning it can’t be more lucrative for workers to stay at home. But any plan will require “not allowing a big blow to household income,” which is core to the economy, Goodspeed added.

Ohio Republican Brad Wenstrup, a member of the House’s tax-writing committee, said the package should address the ability of working parents to find childcare and helping schools to reopen.

“We have a shortage of day care providers,” he said in another Bloomberg Radio interview. “I am going to look for incentives for those type of programs.”

Congress in March passed a $2.2 trillion pandemic relief program, with carve-outs for small businesses and the airline industry as well as multiple lending programs for corporations and Main Street businesses through the Federal Reserve. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent out nearly $1 trillion in the first month after that bill became law, through checks directly to American families, forgivable loans to companies and unemployment insurance.

Still, much of that money remains unused. The Treasury Department has yet to disburse any loans from a $25 billion pool for airlines, and most of a $17 billion carve-out for firms deemed critical to national security remains untapped.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The idiosyncrasy of how data sets are reported means the rebound in economic activity probably looks better than it is. If an historic decline occurs it will necessarily result in a deep decline. If the rebound from that low is in the order of 10% it will come through as an historic percentage advance and yet the absolute level of activity may still be well below the peak.



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July 03 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Are you reframing your future or is the future reframing you?

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Ernst and Young. Here is a section on financial statistics:

To some extent, technology can help meet these new challenges. The costs of data collection and analysis are falling rapidly thanks to Internet of Things and AI. Satellites and sensors, for example, can generate highly accurate real-time data. A broader corporate data strategy aimed at collecting social and environmental cost data, in addition to the well-being of employees and local communities, might help fill significant gaps in measurement. Useful new corporate reporting that details progress toward a broader business purpose means building the prerequisite data capabilities first.

Governments also have an opportunity to leverage data generating technologies to enhance feedback. More than 20 countries from Singapore to Sweden have “smart city” initiatives, demonstrating how better measurement through data can improve public safety and citizen services, albeit not without risks. The UK’s National Health Service has dozens of partnerships with leading technology companies analyzing the vast troves of patient data to support the provision of its services.109 And big data techniques have also proved a significant part of the policymaking process when fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries that successfully implemented track and-trace techniques using smartphones fared better in managing the deadly outbreak.

An inflection point is approaching, driven by necessity. Our industrial-era metrics are misaligned with the needs of a knowledge-based economy characterized by widespread technological disruption. We are on the cusp of a significant change in the way societies make policy and conduct business. Companies will either evolve to realign with new values, or risk dissolving as their social contract is withdrawn. There is no looking back.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The way in which we collect data about the economy is deeply flawed. That’s a well understood fact but we have not yet come up with a more effective way of measuring economic activity and potential. The problem with changing the status quo is it would completely upend the way in which economies are managed. That might well be inevitable because the populist uprising that continue to  spread are challenging the establishment already.



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July 02 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day - on a stay at home index

“Are you able to create a Work From Home/Stay at Home index for you/us to track on a regular basis. Today has been another big day for many of these stocks with Shopify for example up another 7% in here today, clearing the $1,000 level, Netflix up 5%, Amazon 4%, Peloton up 4, DocuSign up 4, and Wayfair 11%! Regretfully I’m not involved in any of these as I can’t get my head around valuations. When will this madness stop?”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this email which highlights the dilemma of many people on the side-lines of the broad market rebound. There is always a crisis of confidence for anyone who has missed a rebound and is presented with the choice of buying a breakout or waiting for a pullback. That is amplified during accelerations where the fear of missing out is weighed against the fear of sitting through a reversal.



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July 02 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on contrasting life experience between generations

When I read that high house prices are a problem for the younger generation, I wonder whether the historical context is considered. I bought my first house in 1974 and I finally paid off the mortgage on my current home in1999. Over the 25 years that I had a mortgage the lowest interest rate I ever paid was 10% and the highest was 15%. Yes, for a quarter century I paid 10-15% interest on my mortgage, which frequently used up more than half my monthly income. Many of my age group went through a similar experience. My wife and I hardly ever ate out, and our children were treated to many years of cheap camping holidays. I had little spare cash at any time until the mortgage was gone.

Do today's new home buyers have any idea how we lived and struggled with finances? House prices today mirror the very low mortgage interest rate and I suspect that very few (if any) 20-40 year olds are using 50% or more of their income to pay their mortgage as we did. Their money goes on things we could not afford and did not regard as essentials. It's a matter of priorities.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this perspective which I’m sure will be of interest to other subscribers. The personal experience you highlight is a testament to what can be achieved through resilience and frugality. If more people were willing to practice delayed gratification we would be in the very different world. As I see it there are two important trends that the younger generation face relative to the older generation. These are disinflation and globalisation.



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July 01 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The FDA Wants a Covid-19 Vaccine That Really Works

This article by Max Nisen for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The path the FDA outlines is a long one. It’s going to take a while to recruit and enroll 30,000 people in a trial and give half of them two shots in the arm — as Moderna Therapeutics Inc. intends to do to test its candidate. And until a sufficient number of subjects in the placebo arm of such a trial contract Covid-19, there won’t be any firm results. Any number of variables could cause further delays: bad luck, a poor vaccine performance, or slowing case growth.

The FDA is by no means ignoring the urgency of the moment. Its guidance includes a variety of concessions on safety data and other issues that are meant to speed the process. But the world can be grateful the agency is willing to bend only so far.
 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Setting a high standard for a vaccine that will be administered to hundreds of millions of people is imperative. It is the minimum requirement to instill faith in the population that it is worth accepting. I have every expectation that the advances in genetic sequencing and editing will deliver a positive result this year and that a true second wave will be avoided.

The impatience many people feel is perhaps the biggest obstacle to containing the spread before a vaccine has been delivered. I even find myself being less vigilant now than I was a few months ago. That is despite the massive swell of community spread and the greater likelihood of contracting it as a result. That’s a good example of how even the most extreme situation can assume an air of normalcy after a relatively short period of time. That’s one of humanity’s greatest survival instincts, although it is not especially helpful in the short term.



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June 26 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Befuddled by the Bull? The Primacy of Free Liquidity and Risk-Love

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The biggest existential question in financial markets today is how likely are global interest rates to trend towards zero in aggregate. To date the Anglosphere countries have been adamant in their determination to avoid negative interest rates.

However, there is no avoiding the fact that interest rates are falling all over the world. Additionally, Poland, Ghana, Philippines, Chile, Turkey, Colombia, Thailand, South Africa, Egypt, Hungary, Romania, Indonesia and South Korea are all now engaged in quantitative easing.



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June 25 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Occidental, AB InBev Lead Debt-Laden Firms Buying Back Bonds

This article by Molly Smith for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV are seeking to buy back bonds through separate tender offers launched Thursday. Both are targeting debt due in the next three years.

Companies are seeking breathing room on debt payments as they contend with lower earnings amid the coronavirus outbreak, threatening to push leverage even higher. Credit raters are running out of patience: Occidental, already one of the largest fallen angels of this cycle, may be cut again by Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings, while AB InBev was recently downgraded by S&P with a negative outlook.

Both companies largely amassed their massive debt loads by funding acquisitions. Much of Occidental’s nearly $40 billion of debt came from borrowing to help finance its takeover of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. last year, while AB InBev’s roughly $103 billion of obligations mostly stems from its purchase of SABMiller Plc in 2016.

While some firms are looking to buy back debt outright, others are pursuing different liability management exercises to push out maturities. Rite Aid Corp. launched a $750 million exchange offer Thursday, while Macy’s Inc. initiated one earlier this week. They’re also trying to amend certain covenants through what are known as consent solicitations.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Corporate debt issuance has surged over the last three years to a new all-time high and combined total of $2.4 trillion in only a couple of months. That is all aimed at ensuring they have enough capital to see them through a particularly uncertain period.



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June 24 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Forecasting the US elections

This article from the Economist may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Right now, our model thinks Joe Biden is very likely to beat Donald Trump in the electoral college.

Eoin Treacy's view -

No President in modern history has been more stock market friendly than Donald Trump. Since he won the election in 2016, the Nasdaq-100 has doubled. The fiscal stimulus, tax cuts and tax holidays on foreign income, regulatory roll backs and championing of the stock market have all contributed to positive returns. The simple fact he has continually pointed to the strength of the market as vindication for his policies is a clear sign of his efforts to boost sentiment.



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June 24 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

IMF Forecasts Deeper Global Recession From Growing Virus Threat

This article by Eric Martin for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The International Monetary Fund downgraded its outlook for the coronavirus-ravaged world economy, projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.

The fund said Wednesday it now expected global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, the fund forecast growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%.

Having already warned of the biggest slump since the Great Depression, the IMF said its increased pessimism reflected scarring from a larger-than-anticipated supply shock during the earlier lockdown, in addition to the continued hit to demand from social distancing and other safety measures. For nations struggling to control the virus spread, a longer lockdown also will take a toll on growth, the IMF said.

“With the relentless spread of the pandemic, prospects of long-lasting negative consequences for livelihoods, job security and inequality have grown more daunting,” the lender said in its update to the World Economic Outlook.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Last night, Mrs. Treacy was looking at flights to China and Japan for sometime in August. The rates are attractive, until you realise it is impossible for a non-national to enter. The borders are closed. That’s the challenge with the rolling wave of infections all over the world, cases flare up in one area and countries on the other side of the world are forced to take precautionary measures. It is probably going to be months before borders open and even then, it will take time for sentiment to recover. Until that happens only the most necessary of travel is likely. That has a knock-on effect for every sector that demands on travelers is likely to remain significant for the foreseeable future.



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June 23 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The 'Fed story' will win out over second wave and election fears, UBS says. It's time for investors to get off the sidelines

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Callum Keown for MarketWatch. Here is a section:

The analysts, led by chief investment officer Mark Haefele, said three narratives were currently driving markets; the ‘Fed story’ — ongoing central bank stimulus — the second-wave story, and the U.S. election story. Fears of a second coronavirus wave have come to the fore in recent days, with spikes in Beijing, Germany and a number of U.S. states. The UBS team said that U.S.-China tensions fed into the election narrative, which would come into focus over the next four months.

“Overall we see the second-wave and U.S. election stories as contributing to market volatility as headlines feed investors’ hopes and fears about the speed and strength of the economic recovery. But it is the Fed story that will endure over the medium term,” they said in a note on Monday. They said they were positive on the outlook for both equities and credit, preferring USD high yield, Asian high yield and USD-denominated emerging market sovereign bonds as well as stocks in sectors that have so far lagged behind the market.

“Against this backdrop, we think the most important thing an investor can do is to be invested, rather than sitting on the sidelines. As earnings are likely to recover in the second half of the year and excess liquidity continues to support risk assets, we see further upside potential in global equities, in particular among sectors that have lagged the rally so far,” they added.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Monetary policy beats most other factors most of the time” was one of David’s favourite sayings and it has certainly helped to inflate asset prices over the last 12 years. The process began another upward cycle when the Fed reversed its quantitative tightening program last year in response to the illiquidity in the repo market. It went into overdrive when following the imposition of the lockdowns.



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June 22 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on key reversals

After watching your latest insightful and thought-provoking long term take on the markets, I noticed on Friday there were daily downside key reversals both for the Dow Jones Utilities and Transportation indices. Could this be a straw in the wind for the main US indices?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for your kind words and this question which may be of interest to other subscribers. For a key reversal to occur, we need to see a new high reached for the move, only to be reversed and for the market to fall and close below the low of the previous day.



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June 19 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Anatomy of a Rally

Thanks to a subscriber for this memo by Howard Marks for Oaktree which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Questions like these can’t tell us for a fact whether an advance has been reasonable and current asset prices are justified. Buy they can assist in that assessment. They lead me to conclude that the powerful rally we’ve seen has been built on optimism; has incorporated positive expectation and overlooked potential negative; and has bene driven largely by the Fed’s injections of liquidity and the Treasury’s stimulus payments, which investors assume will bridge to a fundamental recovery and be free from highly negative second-order consequences.

A bounce from the depressed levels of late March was warranted at some point, but it came surprisingly early and quickly went incredibly far. The S&P500 closed last night at 3,133, down only 8% from an all-time high struck in troubled-free times. As such, it seems to me that the potential for further gains from things turning out better than expected or valuations continuing to expand doesn’t fully compensate for the risk of decline from events disappointing or multiples contracting.

In other words, the fundamental outlook may be positive on balance, but with listed security process where that are, the odds aren’t in investors’ favor.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The rise of earnings-agnostic investing has been a trend which has defined the bull market since 2008. Every major bull market thrives on a financial innovation. It would be tempting to think that in this case it was cryptocurrencies, but the answer is probably more mundane. ETFs have enabled factor investing and promoted the acceptance of Modern Monetary Theory. They have allowed companies like Blackrock and Vanguard to become titans of Wall Street on the back of value-agnostic investing.  



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June 18 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Daily Observations

Thanks to a subscriber for this note from Bridgewater which includes a number of interesting discussion points on the outlook for stock market returns over coming months. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subcsriber's Area. 

There is a solid argument that the coronavirus lockdown is this generation’s Y2K. Back in the late 1990s there was a real fear electronics would stop working when the date ticked over into 01.01.2000. It prompted substantial investment in additional tech infrastructure and accelerated the rollout of the internet.



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June 18 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

BOE Walks the Line Between Quick Rebound and Fragile Job Market

This article by Lucy Meakin and David Goodman for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Bailey said that while the overall output is holding up better than expected in May, there’s probably worse to come for employment. Jobless claims have risen sharply and the number of workers on the government’s furlough program is higher than the BOE had anticipated.

“We certainly do see signs of activity picking up,” Bailey said. But “we also have quite a strong focus on the labor market,” where the data are “quite mixed.”

The new pace of bond purchases means the total QE target of 745 billion pounds should be reached around the end of the year, and the bank didn’t indicate a possible extension into 2021.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The UK missed the narrow window to get ahead of the virus and instead has had to deal with a prolonged period of uncertainty where economic statistic volatility is creating a great deal of uncertainty. The massive decline in GDP reported last week is likely to be countered by an historic rebound which benefits from the low base effect when it is next reported.



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June 16 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Consolidation happens fast

Thanks to a subscriber for this report by Tony Dwyer for Canaccord which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber''s Area.

There is no question that the pace of market action has picked up. We had the quickest drop from an all-time high in history and one of the swiftest rebounds in history. On top of that, the Federal Reserve has morphed from being reactive to proactive. In so doing its actions are pre-empting weak economic figures which has helped to support asset prices.



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June 15 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Global Thematic Diary June 12th 2020

Thanks to Iain Little for this edition of his investment note. Here is a section:

After the recovery from the 23rd March lows (supreme irony: the very date that many countries went into social and economic “lockdown”) and the -6% mini-crash last Thursday, we see stock markets as being in a redistribution phase as “shareholder regret” kicks in. Nervous Nellies who regret holding equities will either exit altogether (“phew, I’m out!”), or switch money into “cheaper”, lagging sectors like banks, oils, real estate, airlines. Optimists will do something similar except that they’ll be more inclined to hold onto the quality (tech, healthcare, FMCG) that has stood them in good stead. These bulls will regret not holding lower quality sectors if their relative outperformance starts to slip. So lower quality could out-perform higher quality for a while. But….Caution!

A man-made Frankenstein (Modern Monetary Theory, which means hiring monetary policy to do the job of fiscal policy) is ringing an early bell for “stagflation” (low growth plus inflation). There may not be enough global demand or monetary velocity to revive stagflation…..yet. But survivors of the 1970s know what this implies for portfolios at the end of the day: inflation-proof growth equities, index linked bonds, real assets and……gold.

Eoin Treacy's view -

We are at a very interesting point in the market. There are completely different ways of looking at the market. For those who are long, the clearest rationale is $10 trillion has been thrown into the global market and more is on the way. One way or another that is going to inflate asset prices.



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June 15 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Global Strategy Weekly June 11th 2020

Thanks to a subscriber for this note from Albert Edwards at SocGen. Here is a section:

June 12 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The $10 trillion rescue: How governments can deliver impact

This impressively illustrated article by McKinsey may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Liberal-market economies

Countries with liberal-market economies face greater short-term risks than do those with coordinated-market economies but have greater flexibility for long-term dynamism. The group includes Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A key feature here is a limited framework of preexisting measures to protect households—the countries in this archetype spend 17 to 20 percent of GDP on social protection. Their economies skew more heavily toward big corporations than do those with coordinated-market economies, with a comparatively smaller role for SMEs, and flexible labor policies are dominant.

The limited degree of automatic coverage for workers and businesses drives a focus on emergency support-of-wage bills for companies and direct transfers to individuals. More companies will fail in such economies, and the reliance on massive cash transfers in those countries will increase the pressure to build a robust digital infrastructure. However, creative destruction in the least resilient sectors will provide more flexibility to pivot and emerge from the crisis stronger and more competitive, provided that economic shutdowns do not last too long, as unemployment can become sticky, driving up costs and dampening consumption in the longer term.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The clear message coming through from central banks is there needs to be additional and considerable increases in fiscal stimulus to put money in people’s pockets. That is a priority to both quell popular protest but to also reinvigorate demand.



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June 12 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Guindos Says ECB Hasn't Had Serious Discussion About Bad Bank

This article by Jeannette Neumann for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

European Central Bank Vice President Luis de Guindos said policy makers at the institution haven’t talk about creating a pan-European bad bank to manage the unpaid loans that are arising during the coronavirus crisis.

“We haven’t had any sort of serious discussion about this instrument,” Guindos said at a webinar hosted by the Institute of International and European Affairs

“I am a little bit surprised when I see this kind of information,” he said in response to a question about a report published by Reuters

Bad banks created after the last financial crisis in Ireland and Spain were “powerful instruments to clean up the balance sheets” of lenders

Eoin Treacy's view -

The potential for the EU to create a bad bank which would warehouse the large number of legacy and new bad debts is certainly a promising potential solution to the region’s systemic problems. Creation of a pan Eurozone body to issue debt and absorb regional debt would represent a significant step towards federalism. It would, however, be a massive step towards recapitalising bank balance sheets. 



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June 11 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Blame the Fed for the Disconnect in Markets

This article by Jim Bianco may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“If a company like that doesn’t have market access and can’t roll over its debt and can’t have enough cash on hand to deal with its obligations, what they’re going to do is they’re going to lay people off. … So, by announcing our facility and including those companies, the ones who actually need the credit… now [have] lots of cash on their balance sheets.”

So, what if free markets do not want to finance companies with shaky operations? The Fed has decided it will effectively nationalize debt markets by removing the risk for investors so that these companies can get the funds to continue operating. In the Fed’s way of thinking, higher and vibrant markets create and save jobs.

To be sure, that is what largely happened after 2008 financial crisis as the central bank began buying bonds under a policy known as quantitative easing. A steep price was paid.

While the economy grew for almost 11 years in the longest expansion on record, annualized growth was below average. This was attributable to an economy that had become less flexible and more reliant on stimulus.

Another consequence was laid out by former Federal Reserve Bank of New York President and fellow Bloomberg Opinion contributor Bill Dudley last week: The Fed’s choices: not have a recovery, have less inequality; or have a recovery with buoyant financial asset prices and more inequality.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The natural disaster response is to do everything possible to ensure the economy is in the best place possible to bounce back. That means saving the banks, ensuring ample liquidity and supporting consumers. Without those measures we would have to resort to barter to get financial transactions done.



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June 10 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fed Sees Zero Rates Through 2022, Commits to Keep Buying Bonds

This article by Craig Torres and Matthew Boesler for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“We’re not even thinking about thinking about raising rates,” he told a video press conference Wednesday. “We are strongly committed to using our tools to do whatever we can for as long as it takes.”

The Federal Open Market Committee earlier said it would increase its holdings of Treasury securities and agency residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities “at least at the current pace” to sustain smooth market functioning.

A related statement from the New York Fed specified that the pace of the increase would be about $80 billion a month for purchases of Treasuries and about $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities.

“Acting on mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries underscores their belief that more support is needed,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist with Grant Thornton in Chicago. “The Fed does not see a victory in the employment bounce-back. The risk of deflation is still high and the economy needs more support to heal more fully.”
 

Eoin Treacy's view -

$120 billion a month for the next two years will add nearly $3 trillion to the size of the Fed’s balance sheet. It sounds like a lot but the Fed added nearly $500 billion to its balance sheet in May, so $120 billion is a significant deceleration of support.



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June 08 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day - on the potential for inflation to surprise on the upside or the downside

Greetings Eoin. Firstly, thank you for the daily commentary and Big Picture Long Term view. They remain the highlight of my weekend and are greatly appreciated. I’m interested in your comments regarding future expectations of inflation.

I hope I’m summarising you accurately, but in essence the thinking runs that the provision of vast amounts of monetary liquidity from Central Banks, combined with Government fiscal spending will at some point come home to roost, and drive up inflation.

If so, why then did we not see an inflation spike following the 2007/08 GFC, where massive (at the time) injections of liquidity and fiscal spending should have delivered the same result?

One view is that we did get inflation following the GFC, just that it showed up in asset prices, not in consumer prices. Equities, bonds, property, luxury goods, art and even later on precious metal prices all benefited from the increased liquidity following 2008. As you have previously highlighted, massive advances in technology, changes to the way we work and live, outsourcing of jobs to lower wage economies, and historically low interest rates have all combined to keep consumer inflation in check over the same period.

Are we to assume that this time is different, and we should expect consumer price inflation at some point, or is it safer to expect history to rhyme and that inflation will again show up in asset prices? If so, should we presume the liquidity will chase better returns and lower P/E multiples of Europe and Emerging Economies this time around? And finally, when investing I’m always conscious of the wise words from the famous British Economist, John Maynard Keynes “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”. Spoken nearly a century ago, and never more relevant than today! Many thanks for your time

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this important email and your kind words. The global response to the 2008 global financial crisis was to bailout the sinners, and pass the bill on to savers. The massive liquidity provided and increases in government debt loads the bailout entailed, saved the global economy. However, it also exacerbated inequality, because, as you highlight the inflation benefitted the holders of financial and physical assets. The coronavirus has laid bare that divergence and it is fanning the flames of left-wing populism.



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June 05 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on caution at potential areas of resistance

“You have been calling for some ‘consolidation’ for equity markets for a number of weeks now (which I expected too), but this just hasn’t come to pass. Instead we have seen a relentless charge higher in virtually every market. You’ve stated that it’s liquidity driven which until recently at least, little participation from the professional money managers. Short term yields no longer can be relied upon as a risk indicator with the Fed deliberately compressing yields at the front end. To what extent, if any, has this recent episode viewed the way you look at markets through a charting lense. A despondent sceptic of this rally here, it seems the only winning strategy is just to ride the liquidity train, and rotate one’s positions towards riskier assets (travel, emerging etc) as the new safe havens (tech) reach maturity.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question which may be of interest to other subscribers. In a response to a similar email on May 12th. I led with this observation. “The best time to buy is following a significant pullback. The next best opportunity is following the first reaction from an important low. The next will be when a breakout to new highs occurs.



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June 02 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Adam Tooze on the pandemic's consequences for the world economy

This article is a month old but it raises a number of important questions which I believe are worth addressing. Here is a section: 

The worry about China is the sustainability of its debt-fuelled economic growth. The basic weaknesses of the Eurozone are that it still doesn’t have a backstop for its rickety banking system and that it lacks a shared fiscal capacity; what’s more, Italy’s finances are so weak that they continually threaten to upset European solidarity. In the US, the national institutions of economic policy actually work: they demonstrated this in 2008 and are doing so again now. The Fed and the Treasury exert a huge influence not only over the US economy but the entire global system. The question is how they stand in relation to a profoundly divided American society and how their technocratic style of policymaking is received by the know-nothing nationalist right wing of the Republican Party and its champion in the White House.

Over recent years, each of these weaknesses has at various times seized the attention of the fund managers and business leaders who direct global business, and the experts and technicians who advise them. It isn’t a secret that China’s debt bubble, Europe’s divisions and America’s irrational political culture pose a challenge to the functioning of what we know as the world economy. What caused the panic last month was the realisation that Covid-19 has exposed all three weaknesses simultaneously. Indeed, in Europe and the US the failure of government has been so severe that we now face a public health catastrophe and an economic disaster at the same time. And to make matters worse, Donald Trump appears tempted to juggle the two.

Eoin Treacy's view -

This article decries the reliance of economies on central banks largesse. I think most of us have some sympathy with the fact that the swamping of asset markets in liquidity is not the most ideal scenario because of the risk of mispricing and misallocation of resources. However, it is the reality we are dealing with.



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June 02 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day - on precious metals

Hello Eoin, if "liquidity trumps everything else" and assuming that governments worldwide will continue New Monetary Theory with massive deficit spending financed by monetization by central banks at essential cero or negative real interest rates, then this wall of liquidity should further propel the ongoing general "melt up" of stock and debt markets allowing a prolonged, demand driven risk-on rally.

In this case precious metals would lose their supposed unique "safe haven" status/advantage until such time that serious inflation or stagflation or a likely collapse or reset of the monetary system becomes visible to a large part of investors - if at all.

Until such (far-off?) day of reckoning, precious metals would neither be needed as protection against systemic crisis as "NMT would be working beautifully" nor for return purposes as stocks and other assets will be pushed up by abundant liquidity. For investors in precious metals/mining stocks the critical questions therefore is:

How long will stocks and other financial assets outperform and "unneeded" precious metals correct or even collapse? Looking back at 2011 and onwards, precious metals collapsed and stayed low until mid-2019 whilst continuing QE1- QEn (the predecessor for NMT) around the world made stock and debt markets boom for the next 9(!) years.

As this time round central banks and governments "shot before asking" by IMMEDIATELY providing unlimited liquidity and fiscal deficits instead of slowly finding and providing relief to financial markets as they did in 2008-2012 and onwards, the best part of the run-up in precious metals may be behind us and the place to invest is in stock markets without much regard to old fashioned valuation discipline.

Most of the performance of the past 10 years has been by way of a multiple expansion - why not have the S&P 500 trade at 25+ trailing earnings if real interest rates are negative and there is a worldwide "Powell/central bank put" as a guarantee against any serious losses?

My questions to you: 1. Why stay invested in PMs NOW and risk a serious corrections/collapse in PMs? 2. When will investors at large recognize - if at all (?!) - that NMT is and will be seriously debasing the currency and nominal values of all assets and that PMs are relatively better or at least, competitive investments/stores of value than say quality stocks (which pay at least a small dividend)?

Thank you for reflecting on the above and sharing your views with the collective. All the best, B

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this summary of the questions many investors are asking. The rationale behind any bubble is valuations don’t matter. The evolution of ETFs as trackers of indices is the clearest evidence anyone might wish for that this trend is already well underway. Market cap weighted indices are closet momentum strategies so tracking them turns everyone into a momentum investor.



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June 01 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Hong Kong Stocks Rally After Trump Holds Fire on Retaliation

This article by Jeanny Yu for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

While the U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech Friday was heated in rhetoric, it lacked specifics around measures that would directly impact the city. He announced the U.S. would begin the process of stripping some of Hong Kong’s privileged trade status without detailing how quickly any changes would take effect and how many exemptions would apply.

“Trump’s comments gave no immediate measures on Hong Kong and leave room for negotiations with Beijing,” said Castor Pang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International. “Trump’s comments have eased investors’ concern about the impact of potential sanctions on the Hong Kong economy.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

With significant domestic challenges the Trump administration has probably concluded that now is not the best time to further escalate tensions with China to the point where they are irredeemable. That has helped to support the Chinese markets.



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May 28 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Europe's Stimulus Package Sparks "Mother of All" Market Dreams

This article by Cecile Gutscher and Ksenia Galouchko for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

There’s no sign yet that the stimulus package is anything more than a one-off response to an unprecedented crisis. Even so, investors are viewing it with a bullish lens. “It’s completely new territory for the European Union,” Michael Strobaek, global chief investment officer at Credit Suisse Group AG, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “And that would make the European Union as an investment much more attractive for global investors.”

That would represent a shift for European markets, which have been unpopular compared with the U.S. For example, European equity funds suffered from outflows more than any other major region this year, losing about $31 billion, according to data from EPFR Global and Bank of America Corp.

Bond Buyers Toast EU Ambition in Moment They Were Waiting for Gary Kirk, a money manager at TwentyFour Asset Management in London, which oversees 17.8 billion pounds ($22 billion), is sticking with his U.S. bias. “It’s a bit early to get overly excited,” said Kirk, who’s waiting to see how the details are hammered out and whether it will pass muster with more austere governments in north Europe.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Eurozone’s so-called sovereign wealth crisis arose because investments creditor nations’ pension funds made in private enterprises in the Eurozone’s periphery went bad. That was blamed on lax regulation and egregious behaviour with the result respective governments were forced to absorb private sector debts. That blew out sovereign debt ratios and caused a crisis. The response to the coronavirus could not be more different. Coupled with a willingness to loosen fiscal constraints, there is now also willingness to break the taboo of direct transfers to weaker nations. That is significant development even if it proves transitory in the near term.



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May 26 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Italy Says 96% of Virus Fatalities Suffered From Other Illnesses

This article by Tommaso Ebhardt and Marco Bertacche for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The coronavirus outbreak in Italy has struck overwhelmingly among the nation’s older population and those with preexisting medical conditions, according to the national health authority.

Almost 96% of the country’s virus fatalities had previous medical conditions, data from Italy’s ISS health institute show. The ISS, which publishes a range of studies on the outbreak including a detailed weekly report, confirms a trend seen since the beginning of the emergency, with the average age of Italians who’ve died from the virus at around 80.

“The latest numbers show that new cases and fatalities have a common profile: mostly elderly people with previous illnesses,” ISS chief Silvio Brusaferro said at a news conference Friday.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The coronavirus pandemic forces us to engage in some grizzly calculus to try and figure out how markets are likely to respond to unfolding events. The reality of aging is we develop chronic conditions, one of which is likely to eventually kill us. Whether that is high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer or diabetes, aging contributes to the ill effects of all these ailments.



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May 26 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Swiss National Bank Investments in Gold and Silver Mining Stocks

Thanks to a subscriber for this article from economicalpha.com which may be of interest. Here is a section:

The Swiss National bank recently published their schedule of public investments for the most recent quarter ending in March: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1582202/000158220220000002/xslForm13F_X01/InfoTable_Q12020.xml.

After examining their portfolio mix, just about 4% of the portfolio is invested in the Materials segment, which encompasses 175 positions totaling USD $4.5B. Of this, 24 positions are in gold mining stocks totaling USD $1.216B and 9 are in silver stocks totaling USD $26M.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Swiss National Bank has followed an iconoclastic policy of investing directly in companies for much of the last decade. That makes a lot of sense since it helps to accrue positions in income producing real world assets which either pay dividends or retain income for further growth. They made significant purchases of US tech stocks about a decade ago and positions in gold mining shares today signal an appreciation for both value and thematic investing.



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May 20 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Central Bank Leans on QE to Anchor Rupiah

This article by Tamara Mast Henderson for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Bank Indonesia is using bond purchases to support the rupiah and help fund the government’s Covid-19 response. Too much quantitative easing, though, could backfire and fuel worries about the accommodation of unfettered government spending.

Critical for reassuring investors, in our view, is that the central bank stick to its pledge to cap bond purchases in the primary market at 25% and intervene only as a last resort. If these promises are broken, QE could weigh on the rupiah like a pair of cement shoes.

Emerging market central banks embarking on QE might already be skating on thinner ice than peers in developed markets. Bank Indonesia, for one, has a shorter track record for demonstrating independence from political interference.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The relative strength of the Rupiah is a standout relative in Asia and is mirrored by the stability of the Philippine Peso. Both countries have deployed quantitative easing to support their respective bond markets and short up their currencies.



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May 19 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Europe's Breakthrough Recovery Plan Faces Immediate Obstacles

This article by Richard Bravo, Marek Strzelecki and Rafaela Lindeberg for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:  

Less than 24 hours after Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macronlaid out a radical plan that would see the European Union collectively finance its response to a virus-induced recession, countries were already expressing disapproval, threatening to doom the nascent proposal.

The German and French leaders on Monday threw their weight behind a plan to allow the EU’s executive arm issue 500 billion euros ($548 billion) of bonds, with the proceeds going to help member states affected most by the pandemic. Controversially, recipients of the funds won’t need to pay the EU back and the securities would be financed collectively. That means richer countries, like Germany, would be bankrolling poorer ones.

Angela Merkel arrives to address a joint press conference with Emmanuel Macron, attending via video link, in Berlin, on May 18.The plan represents a remarkable about-face for Germany, and the proposal, which needs unanimous approval by all 27 members of the EU, faces stiff headwinds from the bloc’s more frugal members.

“We still have to convince other member states, four in particular: Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Mairesaid on Tuesday. “And we mustn’t hide the fact that it will be difficult.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz immediately threw cold water on the Franco-German plan, saying that he had consulted with his Danish, Dutch and Swedish counterparts, and that they remained opposed to any money being given to fellow countries in the form of grants. Any funds would have to be repaid by the beneficiaries, he said.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Europe needs to come up with a clear vision for its existence or it will not survive. The founding rationale for the EEC was to put age-old animosities aside and to concentrate on trade. Everyone making money and delivering improving standards of living would help to foster peace. That was successful enough to encourage further cohesion.



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May 19 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China Considers More Economic Pain for Australia on Virus Spat

This article from Bloomberg News may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The office of Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham declined to comment. When asked about the list, China’s foreign ministry didn’t address the specifics but said the government “has always sought to find common ground while putting differences aside, cooperate to achieve win-win results and will not harm others to benefit oneself.”

“We hope the Australian and Chinese side can meet in the middle, take more measures to improve bilateral relations and deepen mutual trust, and provide favorable conditions and atmosphere for practical cooperation in various areas,” the ministry said.

Australia’s China Addiction Leaves It Vulnerable to Trade Spat

Speaking earlier at a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China would back a resolution at the World Health Assembly later Tuesday that calls for a “comprehensive assessment” of the pandemic that differs from “Australia’s earlier proposal of a so-called independent global review.”

“We suggest the Australia side to go through the text carefully,” Zhao said. “If Australia is willing to change its course and give up the political manipulation of the pandemic, we will welcome that.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Asking for an independent review of the origins of a virus which has ravaged the global economy is reasonable. That’s particularly true when it comes to trying to figure out where the next pathogen is likely to arise from and acting to prevent it. China has already razed and sanitised the wet market in Wuhan. That was completed in February so they have no intention of allowing an investigation.



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May 15 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Case for Deeply Negative Interest Rates

This article by Kenneth Rogoff for Project Syndicate may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Now, imagine that, rather than shoring up markets solely via guarantees, the Fed could push most short-term interest rates across the economy to near or below zero. Europe and Japan already have tiptoed into negative rate territory. Suppose central banks pushed back against today’s flight into government debt by going further, cutting short-term policy rates to, say -3% or lower…

,,,A number of important steps are required to make deep negative rates feasible and effective. The most important, which no central bank (including the ECB) has yet taken, is to preclude large-scale hoarding of cash by financial firms, pension funds, and insurance companies. Various combinations of regulation, a time-varying fee for large-scale re-deposits of cash at the central bank, and phasing out large-denomination banknotes should do the trick.

Eoin Treacy's view -

This is the economic equivalent of “use it, or lose it” when applied to money. The idea of forcing banks, pensions and insurance companies to invest is fine on paper but takes no account of the credit worthiness of the assets being purchased. The time to institute this kind of policy is after a major decline when bankruptcies have washed away high leverage and investors need an incentive to speculate. At today’s valuations, where asset prices have already been rising for 12 years, forcing speculation is a recipe for an asset bubble of epic proportions.



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May 14 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on working from home

I can only agree with you having worked from home since the early 2000s (maybe you remember my office at home when you were with Bloomberg in Luxembourg). It fits well with businesses like ours where financial data et al. are immaterial or small ones focused on selling on internet. It is more difficult for activities where in situ interpersonal relationship is more important (journalism for example).

However, the time spent in endless and useless meetings where their organization or required presence has more to do with politics than business. Undoubtedly, working from home will increase productivity and reduce cost due to less space required at offices. As for retail, this should affect office prices.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve always thought of commuting as the greatest waste of human productive capacity imaginable. Spending half an hour in the morning with my head in someone’s else armpit was never my idea of fun. If remote working becomes more acceptable, it will result in a significant loss of income for cities from corporate taxes and ancillary business income declining. That is an obvious risk in cities where property prices are at historic peaks.



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May 13 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Druckenmiller Says Risk-Reward in Stocks Is Worst He's Seen

This article by Katherine Burton and Melissa Karsh for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“The consensus out there seems to be: ‘Don’t worry, the Fed has your back,’” said Druckenmiller on Tuesday during a webcast held by The Economic Club of New York. “There’s only one problem with that: our analysis says it’s not true.”

While traders think there is “massive” liquidity and that the stimulus programs are big enough to solve the problems facing the U.S., the economic effects of the coronavirus are likely to be long lasting and will lead to a slew of bankruptcies, he said.

“I pray I’m wrong on this, but I just think that the V-out is a fantasy,” the legendary hedge fund manager said, referring to a V-shaped recovery.

Druckenmiller’s remarks are among the strongest comments yet by a Wall Street heavyweight on the bleak outlook facing the U.S. They also stand in contrast to the optimism that has pushed the S&P 500 Index to rally almost 30% since its March low even as the pandemic has brought the economy to a standstill, seized up credit markets and ended the longest bull market in history.

The damage spurred the Federal Reserve to unveil a raft of emergency lending programs and Congress to unleash almost $3 trillion in stimulus funds. But those programs aren’t likely to spur future economic growth, Druckenmiller said. “It was basically a combination of transfer payments to individuals, basically paying them more not to work than to work,” he said. “And in addition to that, it was a bunch of payments to zombie companies to keep them alive.”.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Have we just seen an impressive countertrend rally in an evolving medium-term bear market, or are we on the cusp of seeing an additional down-leg which could see new lows posted? It’s a multi-trillion Dollar question but another related one is how are investors responding to Jay Powell’s statement today.



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May 07 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Changing Value of Money

This article by Ray Dalio may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Then came World War I when warring countries ran enormous deficits that were funded by central banks’ printing and lending of money.  During the war years gold was international money as international credit was lacking because trust was lacking.  Then the war ended, and a new monetary order was created with gold and the winning countries’ currencies, which were tied to it, at the center of that new monetary order. 

Still, in 1919-22 the printing of money and devaluations of several European currencies were required as an extension of the debt crises of those most indebted, especially those that lost World War I.  As shown this led to the total extinction of the German mark and German mark debt in the 1920-23 period and big devaluations in other countries’ currencies including the winners of the war that also had debts that had to be devalued to create a new start.

With the debt, domestic political, and international geopolitical restructurings done, the 1920s was a boom period, which became a bubble that burst in 1929.

In 1930-45, 1) when the debt bubble burst that required central banks to print money and devalue it, and then 2) when the war debts had to increase to fund the war that required more printing of money and more devaluations. 

At the end of the war, in 1944-45, the new monetary system that linked the dollar to gold and other currencies to the dollar was created, and the currencies and debts of Germany, Japan, Italy, and China (and a number of other countries) were quickly and totally destroyed while those of most winners of the war were slowly but still substantially depreciated.  That monetary system stayed in place until the late 1960s. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The purchasing power of fiat currencies is rapidly being debased. That is helping to support the nominal prices of stocks, property, gold and bonds. The $4 trillion surge in the total assets of central banks over the last couple of months has supported prices for just about all asset classes. The best performing assets have been those that have historically benefitted from deploying free abundant capital to fuel growth since 2009.



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May 06 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fed Embraces Libor Again and Risks Undermining Push to Kill It

This article by William Shaw and Alexandra Harris for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have spent the better part of three years trying to kill the
London interbank offered rate. Now, they’re looking to it once again to underpin hundreds of billions of dollars in loans as they seek to rescue their economies.

U.S. policy makers last week changed tack and turned to Libor as the benchmark for their $600 billion Main Street Lending Program, which will buy debt from potentially hundreds of companies. The move came a day after U.K. officials granted banks a six-month extension to keep issuing loans tied to the beleaguered reference rate, which is supposed to be phased out by the end of 2021.

The timetable to do away with the benchmark linked to trillions of dollars of financial assets appears increasingly at risk as central bankers lean on Libor to help expedite their massive stimulus efforts. As they lend legitimacy to the much-maligned rate, some market watchers say it’s highlighting the shortcomings of replacements, while others note it could ultimately lead to a more difficult transition down the road.

“The crisis does make it tougher and it will put a lot more time pressure on meeting the deadline,” said Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University who has written extensively on Libor. He called the Fed’s decision, while necessary, “very unfortunate” and a missed opportunity to pivot
away from the benchmark, adding that it’s a sign that U.S. lenders “were not getting ready” for the transition. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

When I originally took regulatory exams back in 2003 there were quite a few areas of the financials markets in London that relied on gentleman’s agreements for regulation. Mergers & acquisitions, the law society, the gold and silver market and most of all LIBOR were all self-regulated markets. One of the biggest changes that followed the credit crisis was to try and exert greater control over the organs of the financial system.



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May 06 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Buchse Der Pandora

This article by Edward Ballsdon may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Eurostat reports that there was roughly €2 trillion of outstanding German government debt at year end 2019. ALL German government bills (Bubills) and bonds (Bunds) have a negative yield, which simply means that bondholders are prepared to pay the German government an annual fee to lend their money to the German Government, be it at -0.65% for very short term debt to -0.52% for 10yr debt to -0.13% for 30 year debt.
Did the yesterday’s German Constitutional Court ruling just change the risk/reward for investors in European government bonds?
 
The current 10 year Bund yield of -0.52% can be broken down into two components:

+ 0.48% Inflation Breakeven Rate.
- 1.00% Real Yield. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The German constitutional court’s ruling that central bank purchases are potentially illegal is mostly an internal affair. The extent to which the ECB is subject to German law is highly debatable but pressing that point has political consequences for any country. There remains ample room for legal two-stepping to avoid any official censure which is why the bond market has brushed away any concerns.



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May 05 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Peering into the post pandemic world

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from the Bank of Singapore which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Almost every major crisis and recession has resulted in lasting implications. The 1973 oil crisis ended the Bretton Woods system and brought about the regime of floating currencies and exchange rate volatility. September 11 permanently changed the way we travel and raised the level of security in public settings and airports. Unprecedented monetary easing after the 2008 Great Financial Crisis further propelled the unlikely continuation of the 30-year rally in government bonds and facilitated the resurgence of tech stocks and credit markets. The Global Covid-19 Crisis will also leave its permanent imprints on consumers, markets and economies. Although we are only a few months into the crisis, it is key to look forward to the next economic cycle and ask: what are the structural changes created by the Covid-19 outbreak and who will be the winners and losers?

For companies, the focus will shift to building resilience
As the virus outbreak results in demand and supply shocks unprecedented in terms of speed, depth and breadth, many companies face tremendous pressure, and this will have a lasting impact on risk perception.  Companies will turn more cautious and focus on building resilience in terms of their business strategies and balance sheets, and shareholders will expect management teams to take steps to ensure that the business is strong enough to take the next big shock.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Consumers are wondering about what the trajectory for their earnings are going to be. Nobody knows what the outlook for their businesses is likely to be in the aftermath of the lockdowns or how long recovery is going to take. There is a temptation to think corporations are going to be as cautious as individuals.



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April 30 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Johnson Pledges Lockdown Exit Plan, Says U.K. Is Past Peak

This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

“We’ve come through the peak, or rather we have come under what could have been a vast peak, as though we have been going through some huge alpine tunnel,” Johnson said. “And we can now see sunlight and the pasture ahead of us, and so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain.”

And

“As part of coming out of the lockdown, I do think face coverings will be useful both for epidemiological reasons and giving people confidence it’s safe to go back to work,” Johnson said. “We will be saying a lot more next week and in the coming weeks about how and when we propose to unlock the various parts of the U.K. economy.”

The government has announced more than 60 billion pounds ($75 billion) of direct aid to companies and individuals to help them weather the pandemic, and offered 330 billion pounds of loan guarantees. The Office for Budget Responsibility on Thursday said the government’s virus response has cost almost 105 billion pounds in the current fiscal year.

Asked whether the government would need a new period of austerity, including cuts to public services in order to restore the country’s finances, Johnson rejected the approach.

“I think the economy will bounce back strongly, I think that this government will want to encourage that bounce back in all kinds of ways,” he said. He added that he’d “never particularly liked” the term “austerity,” saying “it will certainly not be part of our approach.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Very few mainstream parties have been able to evolve enough to appeal to the growing populist fringes of political discourse. The Conservatives in the UK and Republican’s in the USA have been able to co-opt the revolutionary agenda by embracing fiscal easing.



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April 30 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on dividend champions and contenders

I am really enjoying Mr Treacy’s comments of the day and look forward to it every morning.

Mr Treacy in today’s update mentioned key sectors that have the most chance of trending up over the next decade – and alluded to a couple shares (e.g. Google and Apple) that may make it to dividend aristocrat list in 10-15 years.

It would be great if Mr Treacy could provide a list of top 20-50 shares that have steadily increased dividends over the last 10 years and based on trends have the highest probably on making it to dividend aristocrat list in 10-15 years.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for your kind words and this email which may be of interest. I mentioned in last night’s audio that technology companies are often among the most reliable in increasing their dividends once they eventually decide to initiate payments. That’s been true of companies like Apple and Microsoft but Google and Amazon do not pay dividends so even if they started today it would be 2045 before they become dividend aristocrats. For a list of companies with solid records of dividend increases, but which do not yet fulfil the criteria to be dividend aristocrats, take at a look at the dividend champions and contenders sections of the International Equity Library. 



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April 29 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China Rolls Out Pilot Test of Digital Currency

This article by Jonathan Cheng for the Wall Street Journal may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In Xiangcheng, a district in the eastern city of Suzhou, the government will start paying civil servants half of their transport subsidy in the digital currency next month as part of the city’s test run, according to a government worker with direct knowledge of the matter.

Government workers were told to begin installing an app on their smartphones this month into which the digital currency would be transferred, the worker said.

Civil servants were told that the new currency could be transferred into their existing bank accounts, or used directly for transactions at some designated merchants, the person said.

China is ahead of many other countries in preparing the launch of an official digital currency. In recent years, the use of traditional paper bills and cash has declined sharply, and smartphone payments have become so ubiquitous that many Chinese people, particularly younger urban dwellers, no longer carry their wallets or cash for shopping. Instead, they use Tencent Holdings Ltd. ’s WeChat Pay and Alipay, operated by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Parallel currencies are an oddity which highlight a government’s desire to fully control the ability of consumers to spend their own cash. The ultimate aim of these kinds of moves is to separate the use case for money so different units can be used for different purposes. The façade of wishing to curtail money laundering or terror financing is ubiquitous to all governments and this is a trend which has global appeal for heavily indebted countries.



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April 27 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Consumer Better than Feared? Earnings Revisions Bottoming

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Morgan Stanley which may be of interest. Here is a section:

April 27 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on bond market risk

Thanks for the regular coverage. I have been a subscriber for a long time, and find this really the only voice of sanity and unbiased views. So, thanks. Could you elaborate on the statement you mentioned where the bond investors should be cautious because / if majority of the bonds are held by the government. Also, could you kindly help think through and elaborate how the fed would deal with the following - exits from the agency papers the Fed is buying. Is there any limit on how much the Fed can buy in this program? - how will the fed deal with losses in the Junk bond ETFs if there were to be defaults? Are the losses guaranteed b6 the Treasury?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for your kind words and long-term support. Governments very seldom pay back their debt. Instead they are more interested in the cost of servicing the total relative to other spending priorities. As interest rates have trended lower, the cost of servicing has followed, even as the overall quantity of debt has increased. That has created a situation where if interest rates rise, for any reason, the ability of the US government to fund itself will be impaired.



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April 24 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Chapter 1: The Big Picture in a Tiny Nutshell

I read the first two chapters of Ray Dalio’s latest book yesterday. Here is an important section from Chapter 1:

The quicker the printing of money to fill the debt holes, the quicker the closing of the deflationary depression and the sooner the worrying about the value of money begins.  In the 1930s US case, the stock market and the economy bottomed the day that newly elected President Roosevelt announced that he would default on the government’s promise to let people turn in their money for gold, and that the government would create enough money and credit so that people could get their money out of banks and others could get money and credit to buy things and invest. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

This latest book by Ray Dalio is well worth taking the time to read. Chapters are being released weekly via LinkedIn. His focus on governance, hard money and the credit cycle will be familiar to veteran subscribers but it is always refreshing to hear an additional perspective and not least because of the study of long-term cycles which he throws fresh light on.



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April 23 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on Australian banks and debt

Australia has announced they are increasing petroleum reserve stocks. Small steps in the global oil market. We have lots of gas not much Oil. Government argument oil prices are low. Think I can see political / defense US / Australian ambitions in this move.

The Governor of the RBA made a speech a few months back the RBA will support all local banks. That investors should feel confident about the security of their bank deposits and securities. Can I trust these comments? I almost fell out of my chair when Glenn Stevens made this statement

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this email which may be of interest to other subscribers. It makes sense that Australia should build up an oil reserve when prices are cheap. It certainly beats doing it when prices are high and a significant reserve is a geopolitical imperative during a time when stress between the great powers of our day is only likely to increase.



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April 20 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on mean reversion risk in precious metals:

Good afternoon Eoin, I am enjoying the daily video and the written commentaries. Regarding your medium and long-term view that the price of gold is and will be reflecting the increasing and competitive debasement of currencies, but that presently gold is in an overbought phase, please explain what you would consider the maximum drawdown in gold to undo the overbought situation.

Would that imply that gold should e.g., give up about $170 (10%) and reach approximately $1530 which I believe is the 200 SMA? Same question for silver. In what time frame do you expect the undoing of the overbought situation for gold (and silver) to happen? Days, weeks, months? How quickly would the bull market resume?

It seems that the script of the last financial crisis is happening at 4-5 times the speed of 2008/2009...) What likelihood do you see that governments and central banks in the end will intervene (on an international scale) to either confiscate or prohibit the private holding of gold and silver and/or otherwise make sure that the nuisance of gold and silver as uncontrolled non-fiat money disappears? Roosevelt and others like Hitler, Soviet Union already proved that this can be successfully implemented ...Second addition to my first message/questions: To what extent did the rally in stocks trigger yesterday's and today's downdraft in the PM sector? Thank you!

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this series of questions which may be of interest to subscribers. The mantra that delivers the best returns is “don’t pay up for commodities” and that applies even in a bull market. Gold and the precious metals generally are prone to volatility and often posted failed upside breaks. Chasing the market higher will only work on the relatively rare occasions when the trend accelerates; whereas more often than not precious metals trends adopt a sawtooth profile.



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April 07 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Nobody ever pressed "Stop" before

Thanks to Iain Little and Bruce Albrecht for this insightful report which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Let’s set aside for the moment questions of timing and think about what changes we can expect to be durable from the virus-induced recession.

The first thing that springs to mind is a loss of income which will take a while to recover. For some that will be quite soon, for others who need to find a new job it will take longer. As we go from full employment in many countries to something less that necessarily represents lower growth overall and by extension lower corporate earnings.



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April 07 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Cyclical Bear Ending; Secular Bull to Resume; Investor Feedback & FAQs

Thanks to a subscriber for this report by Mike Wilson at Morgan Stanley. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The idea of Modern Monetary Theory scandalised investors a year ago but very much the reality today as central banks fall over themselves to accommodate the efforts of governments to spend their way out of the trouble. My contention since early this year was the coronavirus will be temporary but the monetary and fiscal effects will be very long lasting.



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April 06 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Coronavirus mortgage bailout: 'There is going to be complete chaos,' says industry CEO

This article by Diana Olick for CNBC may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“This is a crisis so easily correctable,” he said. “The GSEs [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] for years have always assured the servicing community that in the event of a major credit event, they’ll be there to make sure they provide the liquidity. From what we are hearing, and we can’t verify it, the FHFA director instructed the GSEs not to set up a liquidity or advance facility.”

When asked for a response to the industry plea, Calabria on Monday declined to comment.

Both Stevens and Bray said that because of this new and momentous risk in the mortgage market, it is suddenly much harder for borrowers to get new loans or refinance current mortgages. Wells Fargo is already placing restrictions on jumbo lending to its customers.

“It’s just going to create more fear within the nonbank servicing sector. The banks that service them are going to start to not lend,” said Bray. “Ultimately that impacts homeowners. They won’t be able to be served because these companies will be in the middle of a crisis. We’ve seen a lot of businesses close their doors, and if you start closing the doors of servicers, you’re impacting people’s lives much more than other sectors. You’re talking about their homes. It’s the largest asset they have.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

The buck has to stop somewhere. If homeowners are given a free pass on skipping mortgage payments that simply pushes the onus for making payments up the line to servicers who need to pay mortgage bond coupons. When major tenants like H&M or Primark refuse to pay rents, it puts a great deal of pressure on landlords who still have mortgage payments to meet. I have not seen any commentary yet on how much forbearance will be made available to commercial property REITs.



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April 02 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Borrowers Brave Record Jobless Claims With Bigger, Bolder Sales

This article by Molly Smith and Hannah Benjamin for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Even as the number of jobless claims soar, companies around the globe are capitalizing on investors’ thirst for debt by moving ahead with larger and riskier bond offerings.

T-Mobile US Inc. is selling $19 billion of bonds in the year’s second-largest sale, while the high-yield market is coming back to life with three new deals, including one from Tenet Healthcare Corp. T-Mobile and Tenet announced their debt offerings just ahead of what turned out to be 6.6 million more Americans applying for unemployment benefits, double last week’s record. More borrowers like VMware Inc. and Ross Stores Inc. came forward after that, on top of 17 in Europe.

Issuers are seeing a resurgence in risk appetite, as massive demand for new issues has allowed companies to go bigger and bolder with their debt offerings. Cruise line operator Carnival Corp., though technically investment-grade rated, was able to draw massive demand from high-yield investors for a bond sale that ended up being larger and cheaper than expected. Junk bond funds are expected to see a record inflow this week when Refinitiv Lipper reports data later Thursday, reversing six straight weeks of outflows.

Eoin Treacy's view -

There are two important factors at work in the investment grade market. The first is interest rates might be zero, economies under duress and anxiety high but investors still need to capture yield and cashflows. The second is the Federal Reserve is backstopping purchases of investment grade debt so investors now have a measure of security in purchases that did not exist two weeks ago.



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April 01 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day - on the outlook for banks

Many thanks for your continuing high-quality service, exemplified by the comprehensive Income ITs spreadsheet you produced yesterday. It will be invaluable for Private Investors such as myself. On a separate topic, do you have any views on the banks in the light of the suspension of dividends? In particular, I see that HSBC shares are approaching chart support from 1997-98 and 2016.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question. There is no denying that bank shares have declined significantly so it is logical to question whether they are close to a low. With dividends being eliminated, a rise in defaults inevitable, a moratorium on buybacks, and tight margins from low interest rates the big question is whether the bad news has been priced in.



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March 31 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

'The common enemy'

Thanks to a subscriber for this credit focused report from Robeco which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Corporate defaults are inevitable considering the leverage in the system and the sudden disappearance of revenue for many companies. Where companies had borrowed heavily to fund acquisitions or buybacks, they now have to make debt payments with no, or much reduced, incoming revenue. That is an obvious problem particularly affecting some of the most indebted tourist, auto and aeronautics companies. The biggest challenge for banks will be in how exposed they are to small companies on a local level because many are now in dire financial straits.



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March 27 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.K. Virus Aid Package Beats Financial Crisis Stimulus

This article by Alex Morales, Lucy Meakin and Andrew Atkinson for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The coronavirus crisis has transformed the fiscal landscape at a stroke. Britain was on course for a budget deficit of 55 billion pounds in the fiscal year starting April. Now, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, borrowing could be as much as 200 billion pounds as an economy on course to shrink at least 5% this year hammers tax revenue and drives up spending on welfare.

That could leave the deficit just below the 10% reached in the aftermath of the financial crisis and push up already elevated debt levels.

The chancellor announced his first economic package to deal with the outbreak when delivering the budget on March 11, unveiling 12 billion pounds of measures to mitigate the effects of the outbreak on the economy.

As evidence mounted that the crisis was snowballing, he followed up with a 350-billion pound stimulus package comprising government-backed loans as well as 20 billion pounds of grants and tax cuts for struggling companies.

Then, last Friday, he announced 7 billion pounds of extra welfare spending and said the government would pay 80% of salaried employees’ wages up to a maximum of 2,500 pounds a month -- a plan Bloomberg Economics estimates will cost 17.5 billion pounds.

Announcing further details of the job-retention program today, the Treasury said the government will also cover employers for the National Insurance and minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions of furloughed workers, saving firms 300 pounds a month per employee on average.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The trouble with the coronavirus is not so much in the mortality rate but in the speed with which it is spreading. Overloading hospitals with scarce resources and scary reports of tens of thousands dying has put a great deal of pressure on the economy. However, it is also worth considering that despite the scale of the challenge faced in Italy, they have seen the peak in the infection growth rate. That suggests the problem is unlikely to get worse.



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March 27 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Fed's Cure Risks Being Worse Than the Disease

This article by Jim Bianco for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

But it’s the alphabet soup of new programs that deserve special consideration, as they could have profound long-term consequences for the functioning of the Fed and the allocation of capital in financial markets. Specifically, these are:

CPFF (Commercial Paper Funding Facility) – buying commercial paper from the issuer.
PMCCF (Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds from the issuer.
TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) – funding backstop for asset-backed securities.
SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs in the secondary market.
MSBLP (Main Street Business Lending Program) – Details are to come, but it will lend to eligible small and medium-size businesses, complementing efforts by the Small Business Association.

To put it bluntly, the Fed isn’t allowed to do any of this. The central bank is only allowed to purchase or lend against securities that have government guarantee. This includes Treasury securities, agency mortgage-backed securities and the debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. An argument can be made that can also include municipal securities, but nothing in the laundry list above.

So how can they do this? The Fed will finance a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for each acronym to conduct these operations. The Treasury, using the Exchange Stabilization Fund, will make an equity investment in each SPV and be in a “first loss” position. What does this mean? In essence, the Treasury, not the Fed, is buying all these securities and backstopping of loans; the Fed is acting as banker and providing financing. The Fed hired BlackRock Inc. to purchase these securities and handle the administration of the SPVs on behalf of the owner, the Treasury.

In other words, the federal government is nationalizing large swaths of the financial markets. The Fed is providing the money to do it. BlackRock will be doing the trades.

This scheme essentially merges the Fed and Treasury into one organization. So, meet your new Fed chairman, Donald J. Trump.

Eoin Treacy's view -

My rule of thumb for plotting a route through the market mayhem of the last six weeks has been to take what people expressed disquiet about last year and amplify it. Modern Monetary Theory has gone global even quicker than the coronavirus. It is now the de facto economic policy for much of the world and has seen just about every government concede to the requirement for fiscal laxatives.



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March 26 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fed Set to Launch Multitrillion Dollar Helicopter Credit Drop

This article by Rich Miller for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“The Fed has effectively shifted from lender of last resort for banks to a commercial banker of last resort for the broader economy,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli.

The coming rain of credit -- historic in both size and scope -- will be made possible by $454 billion set aside in the aid package for Treasury to backstop lending by the Fed. That’s money the central bank can leverage to provide massive amounts of financing to a broad swathe of U.S. borrowers.

“Effectively one dollar of loss absorption of backstop from Treasury is enough to support $10 worth of loans.” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in in a rare nationally-televised interview early Thursday morning. “When it comes to this lending we’re not going to run out of ammunition.”

He told NBC’s “Today” show that the Fed was trying to create a bridge over what may well be a substantial decline in the economy in the second quarter, to a resumption of growth sometime in the latter half of the year.

“It’s very hard to say precisely when that will be,” he said. “It will really depend on the spread of the virus. The virus is going to dictate the timetable here.”

While the Fed can help by keeping interest rates low and ensuring the flow of credit, “the immediate relief” for Americans will come from the Congressional aid package, Powell said. The bill includes direct payments to lower- and middle-income Americans of $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child.

Combined with an unlimited quantitative easing program, the Fed’s souped-up lending facilities are set to push the central bank’s balance sheet up sharply from an already record high $4.7 trillion, with some analyst saying it could peak at $9-to-$10 trillion.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The new stimulus plan is providing money to 90% of consumers, but also to corporations, municipals and both the government and corporate bond markets. In terms of both size and scope the package is designed to provide a life line to all markets and, so far, it is having the desired effect.



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March 25 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Great Leverage Unwind

This note from Guggenheim may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In addition to Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)-like programs to assist companies and industries, there is no other choice but for the Fed to step up to keep markets functioning. That’s why I’ve been saying that we would need to see about $4.5 trillion of quantitative easing (QE) before everything was resolved. This is in addition to emergency lending through the discount window, dealer repo operations, central bank liquidity swaps, and the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility. That would take the Fed’s balance sheet to at least $9 trillion, or about 40 percent of last year’s gross domestic product (GDP). That might sound like an alarmingly big number, but to put it in perspective the Bank of Japan’s balance sheet is the equivalent of 105 percent of GDP. So, the United States is a piker on QE.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Fed has now entered its ‘at all costs’ phase of assistance. I will freely admit my initial estimate from six months ago the Fed’s balance sheet would reach $6 trillion is now wildly overoptimistic. Considering the extent of the challenge and the desperate need for liquidity $10 trillion is probably a more likely number for the size of the Fed’s balance sheet.



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March 25 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Canceled Stock Buybacks Mount, and They May Not Return for Years

This article by Phil Serafino, Kasper Viita and Sarah Ponczek for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The comment suggested his distaste for the practice predates the coronavirus outbreak and echoed criticism from Democratic presidential candidates who have long viewed buybacks as a waste and social ill.

“When we did a big tax cut and when they took the money and did buybacks, that’s not building a hangar, that’s not buying aircraft, that’s not doing the kind of things that I want them to do,” Trump said on Friday. “We didn’t think we would have had to restrict it because we thought they would have known better. But they didn’t know better, in some cases.”

Trump said he would support a prohibition on buybacks for companies that receive government aid. The five biggest U.S. airlines -- prime targets for bailout funds -- spent 96% of their free cash flow on repurchases over the last decade, money that could have been used to build rainy-day funds. Overall
buybacks started to slow in the first couple of months of the year in the U.S., when they were $122 billion in January and February, down 46% from a year earlier in the slowest start to the year since 2009.

While some viewed share repurchases as one of the driving forces behind the bull market, the practice was constantly criticized, particularly in populist circles. Companies were simply inflating their stock prices inorganically, using cheap money in the process, so the argument went, exacerbating wealth inequality as the ultra-rich cashed out.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Buybacks have been the primary source of demand supporting the market, particularly during pullbacks, over the last decade. The problem with relying on buybacks as a rationale for being bullish is they are inherently procyclical. The majority of companies are not in a position to buy back shares following big declines. Additionally, since debt loads have increased, at least in part to fund buybacks, they are overleveraged at peaks and debt obligations come before equity during a downturn.  



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March 23 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Coronavirus Peak?

Eoin Treacy's view -

The SARS epidemic did not become a pandemic. Its effects were limited to a relatively small number of countries and, even then, the majority of infections occurred within the hospital setting. The trough in markets evolved when the growth rate in new infections moderated which eventually contributed to the peak in new infections. COVID-19 is global and has infected many more people that SARS ever did and particularly because the large numbers of serious cases have overwhelmed healthcare systems.



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March 23 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Near-Zero Liquidity in S&P Futures Means 'Slippage' Risk Is High

This article by Sarah Ponczek for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here it is full:

Liquidity is vanishing for U.S. equity futures. Traders of S&P 500 e-minis are now only offering to buy or sell a few contracts at a time -- often numbering in the single digits -- compared with an average of more than 1,000 just a month ago, data from Deutsche Bank Asset Allocation show.

Drastically thin markets are alarming because they can fuel outsize price swings. With futures markets being halted almost every day in the wake of wild swings, the lack of liquidity is so severe now that it’s fueling concern even among the pros who’ve lived through the worst market crashes in history.

“There’s no liquidity in any market,” said Rick Bensignor, the founder of Bensignor Group and a former strategist for Morgan Stanley, who has traded the futures market for 40 years. “When you’re talking about restructuring a portfolio too, you have to think about the potential slippage that’s involved to get anything done.”

Of course it’s no surprise that markets would thin out when investors, strategists, and economists alike are unsure of the ultimate impact of the coronavirus pandemic. And it’s not clear if the low liquidity may be feeding upon itself -- i.e., are traders staying away because liquidity is so horrible, or is it just a natural side effect caused by all the uncertainty?

“‘Thinly traded’ now an understatement considering how much liquidity in futures market has collapsed,” tweeted Liz Ann Sonders, the chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab. U.S. contracts hit exchange-mandated halts for the ninth time in 10 days overnight Sunday, before an announcement of unlimited quantitative easing from the Federal Reserve ignited gains that lasted just 20 minutes before turning negative again.

Strategists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. have estimated liquidity in U.S. futures markets is seven times worse than the poorest levels during the financial crisis. According to Bensignor, typically when it comes to size, anywhere from 200 to 500 blocks trade on both the bid and offer side of a wager at every tick. Watching his screen Monday morning, there were fewer than 10.

“You are going to have to deal as you restructure portfolios,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “You’re also going to have to realize that doing so is going to cost a lot of money compared to what you had to do in the past, where you could basically just do it for no cost because of the liquidity.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

One of the reasons stock markets have sold off so aggressively is because the spike in volatility initiated an epic deleveraging in the macro hedge fund sector. The knock-on effect of that deleveraging was to inhibit the ability of high frequency traders to make markets. That exposed, again, the limitations of the Volcker Rule.



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March 20 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Margin Calls Hit Wall Street Like '30 LTCMs Out There' at Once

This article by Yakob Peterseil for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Margin calls are the likely culprit behind a slump in Treasury futures that sunk a popular hedge fund trade in recent weeks. Funds who had been making highly-leveraged bets on price moves between Treasury futures and bonds saw their positions collapse when investors hit with margin calls sold the contracts.

Some of the recent dollar strength may also have been driven by margin demands. South Korean brokerages who hedge their exposure to structured products with dollar-denominated derivatives positions are facing calls, forcing them to scoop up dollars. In gold, investors liquidating bullion holdings to raise cash have been blamed for the metal’s epic slump.

Wild moves reign among risky assets like corporate bonds and oil -- opening up the possibility of more margin stress.

“Half the people we talk to think the current environment is worse than the financial crisis,” the Wells Fargo strategists wrote.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Volcker Rule was designed to cut banks out of the shadow banking sector. Instead it created an additional step between how shadow banks can access liquidity and the central bank. Since banks were unable to go after the most lucrative leveraged trades, they instead provided macro hedge funds with the capital required to pursue these strategies.



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March 20 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on where private equity sees opportunity:

Thank you for the excellent commentary received daily! A question for your view - PE industry claims $2trillion "dry powder" available for deployment but can this be LP drawdown commitments which still has to be called & will come from liquidating other investments at current market prices or even defaulting on obligations?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for your kind words. It is the support of subscribers like you that ensures this service persists.

In the aftermath of the credit crisis Blackstone deployed billions in the US housing market and became one of the biggest residential landlords in the country. That action helped put a floor under the market. They correctly concluded the majority of people would not have the resources to save for a down payment and would instead be renters indefinitely.



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March 19 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Reduce/ re-orientate equities, raise cash, favour USD, EUR and CHF

Thanks to Iain Little and Bruce Albrecht for this edition of their Global Thematic Investors’ Diary. Here is a section:

The Coronavirus crisis, the most serious event since the Global Financial Crisis (“GFC”) of 2008/2009, has set in motion a series of governmental policies whose unfortunate effect is to choke both demand and supply in the global economy.  These policies - prudential measures taken by governments united in their desire to appear to be “doing something”- are likely to be worse, economically speaking, than the disease itself.  Relief comes only with the passing of time or the finding of an anti-viral remedy, the latter a distant prospect at this stage.

Earnings news, monetary news, fiscal news and pandemic news are all following the disheartening course that we feared.  An emergency Fed meeting last Sunday, slashing rates to near zero, failed to reassure.  The next day, Wall Street produced the second of 2 record points drops in a week, falling -13%.  Equity markets have fallen by an average of about -30% from their January highs.

Equity markets are now oversold and distorted by panic.  The market finds it hard, if not impossible, to “price” risk when an end to the crisis is undefined and earnings unknown. And what discount rate should one use in a global panic when rates are near zero?  Many stocks trade under “fair value” on “normalized” earnings.  But the risks being taken by governments are such that there may be worse to come: bankruptcies in directly affected sectors like leisure, hospitality, airlines, hotels and “bricks and mortar” retail.  There may even be nationalizations in troubled sectors.  On the other hand, other sectors, also hit hard by the same waves of panic selling, may emerge as new long-term leaders in a changing world where personal safety, health fears, depersonalizing technology and e-commerce may enjoy further and more widespread adoption.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Millions of people just lost their jobs in the retail and restaurants sector. Weekly jobless figures are reported with a two-week lag, so today’s 281,000 increase is reflective of the week ending March 7th. Most cities in lock down made the decision over last weekend so next week’s figure will be higher but the release on April 2nd is likely to take jobless figures to new highs. The only limiting factor is the ability of people to sign on for benefits given the system’s capacity restraints.



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March 19 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fed Starts Dollar-Swap Lines With Nine More Central Banks

This article by Craig Torres for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

 

The Federal Reserve established temporary dollar liquidity-swap lines with nine additional central banks,
expanding the rapid roll-out of financial-crisis-era programs to combat the economic meltdown from the coronavirus pandemic.

The new facilities total $60 billion for central banks in Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Singapore, and Sweden, and $30 billion each for Denmark, Norway, and New Zealand. The swap lines will be in place for at least six months.

The announcement followed the late Wednesday launch of a Fed facility to support money market mutual funds and comes as part of sweeping emergency measures the U.S. central bank has unleashed to support the economy from the coronavirus.

The Fed already has standing swap lines with the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Boosting the availability of Dollars is a necessary development following the currency’s surge over the last two weeks which is reflective of a massive deleveraging in the nonbank lending community of hedge funds.



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March 19 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Europe Bonds Soar as Lagarde Pledges No Limits to ECB Action

This article by Jana Randow and John Ainger for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

The Bank of England followed Thursday with its second emergency cut in borrowing costs this month, taking the benchmark rate to a record-low 0.1%. The BOE also announced a boost in its asset-purchase program target to 645 billion pounds ($752 billion), made up mainly of gilts.

The two decisions mark the latest in an escalating global response to an outbreak widely seen driving the economy into recession. ECB President Christine Lagarde reinforced the message that policy makers will do all they can, saying there are “no limits to our commitment to the euro.”

The program brings the total of the ECB’s planned bond purchases this year to 1.1 trillion euros, its biggest annual amount ever.

“The ECB was forced to react quickly,” Christoph Rieger, head of fixed-rate strategy at Commerzbank AG, wrote in a note to clients. “The new envelope of 750 billion euros should help bring in spreads more lastingly, but it is questionable whether this will be the turning point of the broader financial market rout.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The bonds of peripheral Eurozone members did indeed bounce today but Germany’s bonds sold off. Spreads might be tightening as a result of the ECB’s actions but this is significantly altered environment from what we have seen previously.



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March 18 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Global Money Notes #28 Lombard Street and Pandemics

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Zoltan Pozsar’s report on global money market liquidity. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

A point I have made repeatedly over the years is understanding how volatility shapes the size of positions in quantitative funds is essential to understanding market structure. The funds which deploy high leverage by betting on low interest rates and record low volatility look like geniuses when times are good but the deleveraging that arises from a spike in volatility can have a swift effect on both performance and the wider market.

Volatility on both equities and bonds is surging. At the same time the inverse relationship between bonds and equities is breaking down. That is particularly deadly for the much-vaunted risk parity strategy which is experiencing its biggest drawdown in years.



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March 18 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on the 10-year - 3-month yield curve spread

March 17 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Rescue Pledge Triggers Biggest Treasury Bond Rout Since 1982

This article by Emily Barrett for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The Treasury market buckled Tuesday at the prospect of a flood of U.S. spending to fend off an economic nightmare.

Yields at the long end of the curve shot higher on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s proposal for a $1.2 trillion stimulus package. Rates on 10- and 30-year bonds shot up more than 36 basis points, their biggest one-day increases since 1982, while an iShares ETF tracking Treasuries maturing in 20 or more years sank a record 6.7%. The U.S. 10-year yield, the world’s borrowing benchmark, is now more than 70 basis points above the record low set last week.

The surge in yields is in response to the massive supply pressure on the way, rather than any expectations for a recovery in growth or inflation, said Jon Hill, rates strategist at BMO Capital Markets.

“It’s clear there’s a recession coming, and policy makers need to do everything they can to avoid a depression,” Hill said.

Tuesday’s market reaction also follows emergency steps by the Federal Reserve to support commercial-paper markets and pump more liquidity into the system, and Sunday’s surprise interest-rate cut, which took the target policy rate to near-zero. These efforts have amplified the steepening in the yield curve, as the gap between two- and 10-year yields touched its widest point in two years, at 59 basis points.

Eoin Treacy's view -

I recorded an interview with Jim Puplava today on FinancialSense Online and he quoted back to me my statement “that the coronavirus will be temporary but the policy response is infinite” I stand by that view because the worst case scenario is we get a vaccine in a year and that allows activity to pick again. Between now and then the range of policy responses is increasing by the day.



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March 16 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fed Has Acted Yet Dollar Funding Markets Remain Under Pressure

This article by Alexandra Harris for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here it is in full:

Over the past week, the Federal Reserve has hit the U.S. dollar funding markets with a barrage of liquidity and tools to ensure they remain lubricated. Yet indicators of funding stress are still showing pressure.

In an emergency action Sunday, the central bank slashed interest rates to zero, adjusted the parameters of global dollar swap lines, in additional to offering trillions of dollars of liquidity via operations for repurchase agreements. Here’s what some of the key metrics have to say about the level of distress in the financial system:

Despite the Fed action, the repo market remains volatile. At one point during Monday’s trading session, the rate for overnight general collateral was around 2.50%, according to ICAP, which is well above the central bank’s new target range for the fed funds rate of 0% to 0.25%. While the bid-ask spread is now around 2%/1.25%, the central bank said it plans to conduct another overnight repo offering of up to $500 billion.

Cross-Currency Basis Swaps
The Fed on Sunday also lowered the rate on its U.S. dollar liquidity swap lines in coordination with other central banks. As a result, the three-month cross-currency basis for dollar yen -- a proxy for how expensive it is to get the greenback -- briefly spiked to its widest on record Monday in Asian trading before pulling back, according to Bloomberg data since 2011. Strategists at Bank of America believe volatility may persist until the Fed fixes the commercial-paper market and there are “more avenues available to secure USD funding.”

Libor-OIS
The gap between the London interbank offered rate and overnight index swaps expanded Monday to the widest level since 2009, led by an increase in Libor’s three-month tenor.

Widening: QuickTake
Rates on three-month commercial paper for non-financial companies reached the highest level since the financial crisis relative to OIS. This suggests companies may be having difficulty selling commercial paper, as they tend to do during times of stress. As a result, Wall Street strategists expect the Fed to announce a resurrection of a crisis-era facility for commercial paper.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Fed reactivating swap lines between other central banks, cutting rates to zero, reducing reserve requirements for banks to zero and announcing a $700 billion quantitative easing program all point to a clear effort to ensure the financial system remains liquid as the economy shuts down. Ensuring liquidity is a priority for central banks but it is a factor that sends a signal to stock market investors that there may be something else they need to pay attention.



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March 12 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fed to Widen Treasury Buying, Expand Repo to Ease Market Strain

This article by Matthew Boesler for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

U.S. stocks trimmed staggering losses of more than 8% earlier in the day as investors absorbed the Fed’s muscular decision.

The buying will include coupon-bearing notes and match the maturity composition of the Treasury market, it said. Ten-year U.S. Treasury yields fell sharply to trade around 0.68%.

“The Treasury securities operation schedule includes a change in the maturity composition of purchases to support functioning in the market for U.S. Treasury securities,” the New York Fed said.

Term repo operations in large size have also been added to help markets function, it also said. The New York Fed said it would offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation at 1:30 p.m. and repeat the exercise tomorrow, along with another $500 billion in a one-month operation, and continue on a weekly basis for the rest of the monthly calendar.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The call on the repo market is likely to continue to rise because banks, the world over, are increasingly starved of liquidity. The liquidity shortage that appeared in Q3 was but a foretaste of the difficult environment we are currently presented with and suggests the remedial action to ensure property functioning of the money markets is going to be significantly larger than currently envisioned.



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March 12 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Risk Parity Trade Made Famous by Ray Dalio Is Now Ringing Alarms

This article by Justina Lee for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Vontobel Asset Management’s risk-parity product has cut its stock position from 140% about a month ago to around 28%, while its bond exposure remains around 260%, says head of multi-asset Daniel Seiler.

“You reduce your volatility with a negative correlation and if that is not the case anymore, you will obviously need to reduce the volatility with a different measure and this could deleverage your whole portfolio,” he said from Zurich, referring to the link between bonds and shares.

On a positive note, for both asset classes to fall in tandem for an extended period, “what you would need is an inflationary shock and at the moment I don’t see that at all,” Seiler added.

With bond yields now so low, there are others on Wall Street who may disagree.

Eoin Treacy's view -

An inflation scare is one possible scenario where both bonds and equities fall at the same time. It is not the only one. Against a background where the pace of economic activity is taking a war-like dislocation the bigger risk is a solvency crisis or a liquidity crisis.



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March 11 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

ECB's Lagarde Warns of 2008-Style Crisis Unless Europe Acts

This article by Fergal O'Brien for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Lagarde told European Union leaders on a conference call late on Tuesday that without coordinated action Europe “will see a scenario that will remind many of us of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis,” according to a person familiar with her comments. With the right response, the shock will likely prove
temporary, she added.

Lagarde said her officials are looking at all their tools for Thursday’s policy decision, particularly measures to provide “super-cheap” funding and ensure liquidity and credit don’t dry up, said the person, who declined to be identified because the call was private.

Still, she stressed that central-bank measures can only work if governments throw their weight behind them too, with steps to ensure banks keep lending to businesses in affected areas, said the person. An ECB spokesman declined to comment.

Lagarde spoke hours before the Bank of England became the latest central bank to take emergency action. It announced a 50 basis point interest-rate cut early Wednesday, combined with measures to help keep credit flowing, and said it still has more policy space to act if needed.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The ECB has been cautioning Eurozone governments for much of the last decade that fiscal stimulus has to be part of the solution to the region’s debt/growth challenges. That exhortation has fallen on deaf ears as the region’s creditors imposed fiscal conservativism on the most profligate debtors.



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March 11 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Boeing Plans Full Drawdown of $13.825 Billion Loan

This article by Paula Seligson for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Boeing obtained the loan from a group of banks last month to help it deal with its cash burn while it prepares to return its 737 Max plane to the skies. It initially tapped about $7.5 billion of the debt, and is now expected to draw the rest, said the people, asking not to be named discussing private information. Boeing plans to draw the remainder of the loan as a precaution due to market turmoil, one of the people said.

Companies affected by the virus are increasingly turning to banks for short-term financing to provide a safety net. United Airlines Holdings Inc. raised $2 billion in new liquidity with a secured term loan, while Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. recently signed a new $675 million revolver. Should credit conditions worsen, more firms may start to draw down their credit lines, market watchers say. Boeing’s loan came about before Covid-19 spiraled into a global crisis and was expected to be fully drawn eventually.

“They want to have cash on the balance sheet,” said Bloomberg Intelligence’s Matthew Geudtner. The Max grounding, the company’s joint venture with Embraer SA and looming debt maturities will also weigh on Boeing’s cash hoard, he said.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The easiest way to determine where the biggest risks reside in this market is to use this metric: Whatever people were worried about in 2019, the coronavirus makes things worse.



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March 10 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Britain Seen Announcing Biggest Bond Deluge in Nearly a Decade

This article by John Ainger and Greg Ritchie for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

 

“Market momentum this powerful will not be reversed by even a very large supply shock,” said John Wraith, a U.K. rates strategist at UBS Group AG in London. “Negative yields are clearly a possibility, especially in safest, shortest issues.” The scope of estimates from primary dealers of U.K. government bonds, known as gilt-edged market makers, was broad ranging.

The most conservative -- Morgan Stanley -- sees a supply of 146.3 billion pounds, while Nomura International Plc estimates an increase to 185 billion pounds. That’s a level not trumped since former leader Gordon Brown oversaw a record 228 billion in 2009-10 to help extricate the country from the financial crisis.

Now that Johnson has delivered on his election promise to “get Brexit done” after years of political turmoil, to retain support he must address the concerns of those in some of the poorest regions of the U.K. That requires funding for infrastructure, health care and job creation. Finance minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday hinted the nation’s fiscal rules could be ditched as he prepares a massive package of measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The entire UK yield curve is a couple of interest rate cuts from negative yields so it is an ideal time for the government to borrow more than it needs to ensure ample liquidity to combat the negative effect of the coronavirus, to placate a restive population eager for better standards of living and to ensure a smooth exit from the EU.



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March 09 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Rosneft Plans to Increase Output as Russia Digs in for Price War

This article by Jack Farchy for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Last week in Vienna, ministers from Russia, Saudi Arabia and other members of the group left a fractious meeting with no deal to continue the cuts beyond April 1. Saudi Arabia heavily discounted its oil over the weekend, triggering a plunge of more than 20% in international crude futures.

Rosneft’s London-listed shares dropped 19.5% on Monday, while markets in Moscow were closed for a public holiday. In a separate statement, Russia’s finance ministry said that the country’s oil-wealth reserves would be sufficient to cover lost revenue “for six to 10 years” at oil prices of $25 to $30 a barrel.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Unconventional oil and gas has been one of the biggest gamechangers for the global economy in history. When the world’s biggest consumer, where production peaked decades ago morphs into the world’s biggest producer and a net exporter it changes the fundamentals and interrelationships of the market.



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March 06 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Covid-19 and Global Dollar Funding

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Zoltan Pozsar and James Sweeney’s report for Credit Suisse on the plumbing of the global financial sector. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The Credit Suisse team do an excellent job of highlighting where the risks are and provide a handy list of instruments to monitor to get an idea of how liquidity flows are functioning.

The repo market illiquidity in September was a signal to everyone that the tightening program had gone too far. There was nowhere near enough available capital in the system to allow the global money market to function. The Fed stepped in with a large swift injection of liquidity; inflating its balance sheet by $400 billion in four months.



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March 03 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Treasury 10-Year Yield Sets Record Below 1% on Virus Fears

This article by Liz Capo McCormick for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Though the Fed met Wall Street’s hopes for aggressive action with its half-point reduction, Chairman Jerome Powell seemed to unnerve markets by saying it’s unclear how long the virus’s impact will last. Traders were already pricing in another rate cut later this month, with more to come in June.

“The market is trading right now on a lot of fear and uncertainty,” said Gary Pollack, head of fixed income at DWS Investment Management. “The Fed certainly didn’t bring calm, and the virus continues. The Fed’s relatively large move also made people wonder what they know that we don’t.”

The central bank’s decision came a few hours after Group-of-Seven finance chiefs issued a coordinated statement saying they were ready to act to shield their economies from the virus. Policy makers faced pressure to act after the OECD warned the world economy faces its “greatest danger” since the 2008 financial crisis.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The market is pricing in the assumption the US economy is going to lock up in exactly the same fashion as the Italian or Chinese economies did as coronavirus concern/paranoia spreads. There is no doubt the virus is dangerous for at-risk groups, but the bigger question is whether its effects will persist beyond the first quarter or perhaps second quarter, not least because warmer weather will likely curtail its spread as temperatures rise.

A more urgent consideration is today is Super Tuesday. The biggest issue investors are worried about is the potential Bernie Sanders is going to be the next President of the USA. The range of proposals he has tabled include breaking up the banks, financial services taxes, capping interest rates, breaking up internet and cable companies, Medicare negotiations for drug pricing, importing foreign drugs, capping prices, end health insurance, banning fracking, insist on 100% renewable utilities and railroads, cars and manufacturing. It’s very unlikely any of these will become law without the Democrats retaining the control of the House and also winning the Senate. However, President Trump has demonstrated just how much power the executive branch has and therefore there are grounds for worry.



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March 03 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on repo market liquidity

The coronavirus scare is obviously a factor for markets at the moment, but the repo crisis remains in the background too. First question - what are your thoughts on relative (best and worst) asset class performance if the repo crisis flares up on top of the coronavirus pandemic. Second related question - does the coronavirus effect (eg reduced rates, lower company profits, high yield bond risks etc) make it more likely that repo will get worse?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question which is particularly relevant against a background of tighter liquidity as banks underperform. Here is Bloomberg’s repo market summary from yesterday:



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March 02 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Central Banks Promise Stability as OECD Sounds Alarm

This article by Simon Kennedy and Lucy Meakin for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

 

Already on Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell opened the door to cutting interest rates to contain what he called the “evolving risks” to economic growth from the virus. The Paris-based OECD now expects the weakest global growth this year since the 2009 recession, and said a “long lasting” epidemic would risk a worldwide recession.

The prospect of central banks’ action temporarily halted the worst rout in stocks since that crisis. But the selloff resumed on Monday, with U.S. futures falling and Treasuries rallying.

Money markets now see the Fed lowering its main rate by 50 basis points this month, and give a 70% chance the European Central Bank will pare its by 10 basis points.

Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicted the Fed will ultimately slash by 100 basis points in the first half of the year. The BOE will cut by 50 basis points and the ECB by 10 basis points, it said.

There is even speculation that the Fed will move before its policy makers gather on March 17-18, and some economists see the potential for international policy makers to coordinate cuts for the first time since 2008. Investors increasingly bet the central banks of Australia, Canada and Malaysia will ease at meetings already scheduled for this week.

“Global central bankers are intensely focused on the downside risks,” Goldman Sachs economists led by Jan Hatzius said in a report on Sunday. “We suspect that they view the impact of a coordinated move on confidence as greater than the sum of the impacts of each individual move.”
 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Government bonds are very overbought in the short-term, with US-10-year Treasuries testing the 1% level. That’s been possible because investors have rapidly priced in four quarter point cuts this year with the potential for the first two to be announced within the next two weeks. The potential for synchronised action from a number of central banks is rising, with the aim of lending assistance but also boosting confidence.



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February 28 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Lead Indicators of Recession

Eoin Treacy's view -

After a week characterised by selling across the board, a great deal of profit taking has taken place and many overextensions relative to the trend mean have been unwound. The question I believe many people will be concerned with is whether the coronavirus is going to be the catalyst for an economic contraction? I thought it would therefore be worth monitoring the kinds of instruments that offer a lead indicator for that kind of concern.



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February 27 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Eye on the Market February 2020

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from JPMorgan. Here is a section:

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The graphic of mortality versus contagion included in the appendix of the report is the best one yet comparing COVID-19 with other killers.

The proximity of the Spanish flu to the range of potential outcomes from the new virus is obviously a topic of conversation. The Spanish flu came in three waves, in Spring 1918, Autumn 1918 and Winter 1919 and disproportionately killed young people. COVID-19 on the other hand tends to most kill people with compromised lung function and older people.



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February 27 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Junk Bond Sell-Off Deepens With Energy Hit the Hardest By Virus

This article by Paula Seligson for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Energy led the decliners as oil prices fell below $47 a barrel, while bonds of rental car Hertz Global Holdings Inc. slumped as much as six cents on the dollar. Leveraged loans tied to American Airlines Group Inc. and Travelport Worldwide Ltd. also slipped. The high-yield CDX index, which trades on price, was down a full point at one stage.

High-yield bond investors are trying to assess the big unknown: whether the coronavirus will be just a short-term problem if it can be contained, or, far worse, turn into a pandemic that could pose a long-term drag on the economy and spark a recession.

“The sell-off is accelerating,” said William Smith, a portfolio manager at AllianceBernstein. “Initially we were seeing more weakness in liquid securities, but today there are multiple situations where bonds are down more than five points.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Riskier credits are less well able to ride out earnings volatility than better capitalised companies. That’s generally why they need to discount their bond offerings. Spreads in the sector were priced for near perfection heading into the end of 2019 as the stock market continued to rebound following the provision of $400 billion in stimulus to the repo market. The potential knock-on effect to demand for consumer products resulting from the virus scare is an obvious risk.



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February 26 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Berkshire Hathaway Inc Shareholder Letter

Thanks to a subcsriber for this letter by Warren Buffett. Here is a section on utilities:

Berkshire Hathaway Energy is now celebrating its 20th year under our ownership. That anniversary suggests that we should be catching up with the company’s accomplishments.

We’ll start with the topic of electricity rates. When Berkshire entered the utility business in 2000, purchasing 76% of BHE, the company’s residential customers in Iowa paid an average of 8.8 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Prices for residential customers have since risen less than 1% a year, and we have promised that there will be no base rate price increases through 2028. In contrast, here’s what is happening at the other large investor-owned Iowa utility: Last year, the rates it charged its residential customers were 61% higher than BHE’s. Recently, that utility received a rate increase that will widen the gap to 70%.

The extraordinary differential between our rates and theirs is largely the result of our huge accomplishments in converting wind into electricity. In 2021, we expect BHE’s operation to generate about 25.2 million megawatt-hours of electricity (MWh) in Iowa from wind turbines that it both owns and operates. That output will totally cover the annual needs of its Iowa customers, which run to about 24.6 million MWh. In other words, our utility will have attained wind self-sufficiency in the state of Iowa.

In still another contrast, that other Iowa utility generates less than 10% of its power from wind. Furthermore, we know of no other investor-owned utility, wherever located, that by 2021 will have achieved a position of wind self-sufficiency. In 2000, BHE was serving an agricultural-based economy; today, three of its five largest customers are high-tech giants. I believe their decisions to site plants in Iowa were in part based upon BHE’s ability to deliver renewable, low-cost energy.

Of course, wind is intermittent, and our blades in Iowa turn only part of the time. In certain periods, when the air is still, we look to our non-wind generating capacity to secure the electricity we need. At opposite times, we sell the excess power that wind provides us to other utilities, serving them through what’s called “the grid.” The power we sell them supplants their need for a carbon resource – coal, say, or natural gas.

Berkshire Hathaway now owns 91% of BHE in partnership with Walter Scott, Jr. and Greg Abel. BHE has never paid Berkshire Hathaway a dividend since our purchase and has, as the years have passed, retained $28 billion of earnings. That pattern is an outlier in the world of utilities, whose companies customarily pay big dividends – sometimes reaching, or even exceeding, 80% of earnings. Our view: The more we can invest, the more we like it.

Today, BHE has the operating talent and experience to manage truly huge utility projects – requiring investments of $100 billion or more – that could support infrastructure benefitting our country, our communities and our shareholders. We stand ready, willing and able to take on such opportunities.

Eoin Treacy's view -

I found this to be an enlightening discussion of the utilities sector. The long-held perception is that these kinds of businesses can afford to pay out the majority of free cashflow in dividends because they are charging rents on established pieces of infrastructure with easily forecastable maintenance and renewal trajectories. As Berkshire’s experience with wind demonstrates, this ignores the long-term risk of exogenous shocks, technological innovation, changing regulation and infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life.



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