Category Archives: Blog

Gravity

"The one thing I still know is you're keeping me down." S.B.

New York's hottest club is OverStatement  - it has everything, complex algorithms, pedestrian explanations and correlation charts that look like the Chicago skyline when held sideways.

 

I use a simple mathematical model to  help me know when to bet on an unknowable future event. I named it Hooper after the Richard Dreyfus character in the movie JAWS. Quint would always say to Chief Brody, "Hooper drives the boat Chief." And Roy Scheider, like my trading, would grudgingly shovel chum.

The thing is I don't need to understand the complexities of the universe to make it work. Today, too many market pundits are caught up in complexity. I utilize what I call the Gravity Effect.

Gravity - It's not just a good idea, it's the law.

Complex systems do not lend themselves to predictability. That is, they are uncertain. Uncertainty is not the same as risk, however, so Hooper guides my risk decisions in an uncertain complex system. I don't need a lengthy explanation for a given. The "gravity" is there, we all agree, it sucks, next.

Here's one of my favorites from the Khan Academy on the subject:

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/probability/scatterplots-a1/creating-interpreting-scatterplots/v/correlation-and-causality

What I do know for certain is the Ultra-Bond has declined from 168 to around 154 since Dec 2017. Over that same time frame the SP has gone from 2700 to 2727 but the trip to nowhere is wrapped in an awfully chaotic seizure between 2883 and 2532 ! So what's the point? The point is trying to calm investor fears or extrapolate general economic activity by looking for correlation between 1 day of bond movement and 1 day of equity movement is the last bastion of a charlatan.

"We thought the good times were yet to come, we didn't know we were in it. Oh gravity, don't let go" Infamous Stringdusters

A Man in Full

In a near perfect moment of tribute, Hooper clanked down a cluster of short moves in the T complex today. This morning we learned of the passing of Tom Wolfe, 80's zeitgeist bond market chronicler and real life BSD. Since its publication in 1987, the bond market has essentially gone UP. The biggest artifact tossed on the bonfire was us, bond guys who like to sell stuff.

If written today, Wolfe's story would most likely center on some socially awkward tech billionaire selling your personal data to foreign governments. But, back in the hey-day, the world turned on the Bond Boy's axis. The great trading houses traded FI and the greatest traders navigated the short side with positions gargantuan for the time (and puny by today's standards).

Godspeed Tom Wolfe. Sherman McCoy and Ken Kesey are a part of our DNA thanks to you.

Hooper will re-calibrate tonight and we'll get back to selling again tomorrow.

 

Echoechoecho

People across the political spectrum have been quick to discuss the echo chamber feedback loop reverberating between a certain cable channel and the POTUS. We have long held the view that a more subtle, but just as dangerous, agreement loop has been promulgated by the Federal Reserve.

When Roger Ferguson was charged with charting the "openness" at the FOMC, a slow slog into the choir preach began. Today, the once admired tea-leaf reading skills of a "Fed Watcher" amount to little more than regurgitating the carefully developed script under the working title "Don't Worry, We Got This."

Balance sheet roll off, funding rate tweaks and SOMA/TBAC objectives are just micro-bumps in the Fed/Media echo canyon that, "There's nothing to see here, move along." A random volatility explosion? Like the lady with plaque psoriasis, "It's fine." A relentless year and half rise in term LIBOR sets? Pulease, what's LIBOR? Something stinks.

I started thinking about this like minded agreement society while running some rates through my model. Just wondering, if the wind down is so simple and without cause for concern, why has the FOMC elected to stay 2 hikes behind a neutral calibration? Looks to me like the non-public view at the FOMC is actually caution and concern.

the Big Short

I've been re-watching Michael Lewis' 60 Minutes interview on the crash. And with that, I've studied various scenes from the very entertaining movie version. I enjoy it but the process also eats away at me, even secluded away on Howell Mountain.

You see, i was one of the 20 or so people Lewis talks about who didn't just talk about the coming crash but bet on it happening. I founded Cronus with the collapse in mind. Our purpose was to short SP futures and buy Ts. My best position was long 9925 Eurodollar calls when rates were posting at 5 and 4.75. My calculations at the time led me to believe a penalty rate would price Libor somewhere between .75 and .5 not a full fledged zirp. We paid a half a basis point for the calls and they ended up 50 ITM -250k/200m.

The most interesting scenes in the movie come when the shorts are finally right but the Street still won't value the securities up. We played on a regulated exchange so didn't have the same problem. We did have serious issues, however. We cleared at EDF Man and with the system failing and guys next door getting wiped out for clearing at Lehman, we were solicited by representatives for GSEC to take on our services. The IB, wanted us to trade 1m for him given our strategy also. We figured being under the GS umbrella would make us safer than EDF.

Little did we know, the IB was deep under water also and had diverted the monies through GSEC into a margin account at CBOE. Both the GSEC back office and our own London accountants were phonying up the daily balances. (when the Feds realized i had pass codes into GSEC clearing the jig was up and they plead guilty and paid $7m in fines) I returned the customer funds and shut the fund. Amazingly, if we had remained open, we would have been embroiled in the Corzine debacle shortly after. Think about that, a couple of nobodies from the floor of the CME bet on the end of the financial system, were right, and the 2 banking institutions they (we) used to do it both stole the money to cover their own losses !

When I returned the investor money, after working with the NFA to ensure it was done properly, all the NFA investigator could say was, "We are really glad for you, no one ever gets the money back." I'm worried why I keep re-watching, something is bugging me again. It's real hard to be early. I'm happy up here, away from it this time.

 

On China Holdings

The pre-packaged meme on the Trump trade policies with China is now on the shelf from several sources. it goes like this: "China could sell a chunk of its large holdings causing yields to rise, the ccy to fall, and all sorts of trouble."

The story sounds right but loses some hype when looked at correctly. One must think about why and how China comes to want/need to purchase such large quantities of US obligations in the first place. The Administration actions would act to reduce the source demand. China could sell off chunks but the question then becomes "to who?" LSAP provided a well structured environment to adjust holdings.

There is no doubt that the threat overhang of a $T in government holdings can have on the issuing country is significant. The idea that China weaponizes those holdings is a totally different animal. Remember, the Chinese were massive owners of defunct notes from the permanently insolvent Fannie/Freddie and made out just fine by hanging on.

TEDx

I watched a mind numbing TEDx talk from 2014 by Brian Westbury called The Truth Behind the Financial Crisis. It's on Youtube if you want to get your year's intake of fake news.

See, Brian just happens to be the same guy who - outside of Cramer and Kudlow - did not see the hurt coming and then became the highest decibel cheerleader for the economy in the throws of and well into the burning of the biggest financial calamity of modern time. His denial interviews are classic historical blunders. Yet, here he is, mansplaining to an audience of god-knows-who; the "real reasons" behind the collapse. Um, that would be the Crisis you never saw coming, denied was happening and then had the ignorance to say did not even create a recession !, That one Brian?

 

THIS

In June, the ARRC announced its recommended alternative rate, the Broad Treasuries Financing Rate (“BTFR”). However, as the pronunciation of “BTFR” apparently is unsavory, the acronym is being replaced with “SOFR” (Secured Overnight Funding Rate). But it’s the same thing – a secured overnight Treasuries repo rate. 

"Apparently unsavory" is the new standard for short rates.

Couple a Things

Item: SOFR update - So the roll out of the new benchmark rate for money funding has arrived with little fanfare and even less understanding. I was chatting with a government bank examiner working at an extremely large bond house about the Secured Overnight Funding Rate and she mentioned something curious : "Neither she, nor the team at said extremely large bond house knew how the rate would be set." She asked my opinion. I said  that trillions of contracts were still set to the tar pit animal previously known as LIBOR so I hoped the new rate sets worked out, oh and the 2015 vintage is spectacular but in tight supply.

Sidebar - secured vs unsecured is key difference.

Item: Rates have calmed and corrected in March as the Lion/lamb transition has played out. April - and Q2 - seem less clear to us than the preceding 6 months. Our base case remains unchanged, however. Equity markets chasing around a wide and volatile range that by Fall will appear sideways and rates clawing higher. The Employment Report looked to put the data together, so this month's could be less accurate. We think the data after will be a better guide.

March 28

Well well, after months of uninterrupted rise; 12 month money retreated a smidge on Wed.

We still see the equilibrium rate of funding at 2% and given other stimulus, the economy and pricing remain strong. We do not buy recent retail softness given the extreme weather patterns of late Winter. Trump's Fox News cabinet and 1920's trade ideas will not be the undoing of the post- FC expansion.

Hyper-moves and demon drop equity flushes may brown stain a junior casino capitalism millennial but those moves are more a function of waves in the zero rate surface breach than economic trouble. Year 2 for any POTUS, let alone one as totally incompetent as this one, is usually a choppier one. The measure of the quickly buzzed about Powell Fed will be the new Chair's understanding of the 3 year old in charge, his creepy Treas Sec and on the wagon Economics adviser. "Measured" isn't a strong enough term for being the independent counter-weight to Larry, Curly and Moe.

SOFR So Far

https://blog.pimco.com/en/2017/11/the-thorny-transition-from-libor-to-sofr

http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/interest-rates/secured-overnight-financing-rate-futures.html

Above are a couple of good primers on the impending roll out of SOFR. Stringing out 3 month SOFR futures in deep and resilient packages will be an important step in the rate's rapid jump from infancy to benchmark.

As this roll out has approached, a steady march upward has occurred in the soon to be tar-pitted rate sets that bench-marked money rates for the last 35 years. Much ink has been spilled of late to explain the relentless rise ex-post. Even Seeking Alpha, on Mar 13, posted on the now nearly 6 month rise with a chart. The "deep dive" amounted to "I'm no technician, but this looks like a breakout !" Sad trombone. We have been yakking about this rate adjustment (and cheering on its arrival) since Q4 2017. Now, looking forward to the April SOFR roll out and the May futures contract, these wider and higher sets offer a cushion to the largest switch from an existing rate base to a new anchor in monetary history.

Even with the long lead time for participant adjustment, billions of dollar (and yen and euro) products could find themselves adrift after the disappearance of their underlying. Nearly 2 million Eurodollar contracts traded from Dec 2018 to Dec 2020 last Friday alone. Over $10 T notional amounts remain in open interest covering the same term. This is a BIG universe and its getting a new Sun.

Of course, nothing will go bump or bang, let alone crash. Of course not. Just like raising the funding rate and shrinking multi-trillion dollar balance sheets, everything will go smoothly and just as planned (hoped). Considering the underestimation of most as to the already significant rise in term structure sets, we feel the potential depth and liquidity needs of the soon to be hatched market will be too shallow for efficient operations. An unexpected need for actual dollar funding in the first 6 months (minimum) of SOFR bench marking could become dicey. The predicted non-event re-Sunning of the financial universe will need a narrowing of current relationships to confirm.