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GFC REMEMBRANCE – WE’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY

The U.S. Financial Crisis 2007-2008, The Global Financial Crisis (GFC for short) and the Great Recession 2008-2012 all seem to have become interchangable terms. I recently came across some journal notes I made at the peak of the crazy in 2008. The reason for the note timing was my thought was that we were going through an unprecedented time in financial history that would have clearly have a deleterious effect on the world at large. I had just read some diary excerpts from my great-great-grandmother Henrietta’s diary, written circa 1905-1908, which got me thinking I should get pen to paper in case this page of history was of interest in another 100 years.

4 September 2008

“Ruthless markets continue. Dow < 300, NASD < 65. Merrill Lynch has now taken write-downs equivalent to 25% of all of the money they have made since they came into existence.”

We all had little idea that we were in the relative early innings. The S&P which was at 1217 coming into September 2008 would eventually fall another 45%.

5 September 2008

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably does not lead to anywhere.”

10 September 2008

“What a week! Sunday the Fed took over Fannie and Freddie Mac. Monday the Dow was up 300. Tuesday Lehman was down 45% and the Dow off 300. No trending markets to report.”

11 September 2008

“9-11 anniversary overshadowed by carnage in the financial markets today. Lehman sub $4 (was $17 on Monday). It does not look good for them.”

15 September 2008

“One of the most dramatic days in the history of the financial markets. Lehman Bros. files for bankruptcy, Ch. 11 late Sunday. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch for $29 (1.8x book) in an all stock deal. Merrill Lynch closed at $17 on Friday past. Lehman to zero, incl. the pref I bought as a punt (oops). The risk reward was very good.”

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17 September 2008

“This is getting comical, if it were not for the massive wealth destruction left in its wake. Last night the Fed took the reins of AIG, replacing management and taking an 80% stake in return for $85bln 2 year bridge loan at Libor + 8.5%. Wow. Yikes. Mommy.”

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8 October 2008

“Quite a gap in my notes due to a new level of fear in the global markets. A truly scary time for all. No country or company is being spared here. Very glad to have my health, and to be young (relatively).

28 October 2008

“The smashing of dreams is not over. A wild month with everything cut in 1/2, read down 50%. The only currencies trading up are USD and JPY. USD/CAD from parity to 1.30. Trying to remain positive.”

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Fast forward – 17 August 2016

The current relative lack of volatility in the financial markets, masked in large part to the continuing largesse of global central bankers, makes the perilous 2008-2009 lows seem further back in history than the scant 7+ years it has been. The 17-month equity bear market which ran from October 2007 – March 2009 resulted in a near 50% drawdown in the S&P, finally basing at an ominous 666 on March 6, 2009. The return over the ensuing 7.45 years to the present S&P level of 2178 is a 17.25% compounded annual return. Nobody knows where we go from here. The thumb on the scale from central banks makes traditional metrics all but useless in charting the future course. The financial outcome will likely come to be inextricably intertwined with geopolitical outcomes.

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NIRP has been a certified global failure. The banks are in triage. Only the Canadian and Australian banks trade > 1.0 book. Both Bank of America and Citi trade < .6x book and they are expensive compared to the European banks which are further behind in their capital raising efforts (DB price to book 0.26x). Global insurers are in the waiting room and feeling ill. A concerted move by the Fed, the ECB and the MoF to 1% would do a lot more to cure the ills of the global markets than to use the little remaining runway they have on the false hope of fighting the ogre of deflation in their theoretically walled nation(s).

Trading based on global interest rate differentials is poppycock as the hedging methodology for global fixed income is 100% clear. FX is ALWAYS hedged in foreign fixed income as the the vol of the fx moves dominate the vol of the underlying bond returns. Those thinking UST are a buy because Bunds or JGB’s are yielding negative need to give their head a shake and look at the empirical evidence.

This relatively recent phenomenon (on a 100 year time line) of allowing the non-profit maximizing players (i.e. central banks) to call the shots for a prolonged period will end in tears for all involved. JCG

 

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USD/JPY 100 – KATY BAR THE DOOR

As a barometer for “risk off”, a rally in the Japanese Yen is spot on.

From the 121.70 USD/JPY euphoria level achieved post rate cut, we elevator shafted through 111 and even got into the 110’s before bouncing to the current 112.35. While 10 big figure moves in the world’s 3rd largest economy should be alarming to all, there is a good chance we get more. Barclay’s today forecast a further rally to 100 by the end of Q1 2016 and 95.00 by year end 2016 (prior YE 2016 estimate 120).

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Central banks have officially run out of runway.

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The Fed, EBC, BoJ, ECB, Riksbank (Sweden cut to -0.50 yesterday, submerged by 5bp more than the market expected and expanded QE purchases through reinvesting monies from maturities and coupon payments) & SNB’s goal of achieving 2.0% inflation in unison is not going to happen.

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Gold has something different to infer from these moves it would appear. My modest allocation to gold miners will be tweaked (higher weighting) and DXJ (currency hedged Japan) jettisoned as wrong-footed folly. You have to trade what you see, not what you know (think you know).

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Japan Topix financials were down 24% since the very recent rate cut in Japan (the market is further dissolving today as they return back from vacation). Mitsubishi UFJ entered the jaws of today’s market trading at 49% of tangible book, Mizuho 66%, Sumitomo Mitsui 52%. For reference Bank of America trades  at 80% of tangible book. What is the liquidation value of a Japanese bank? Where does that bid come from? Not even Citi could make a go of it and sold their Japan franchise for less than $1bln. Even Ford is packing up their Japan tent and going home.

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The reasons for such apparent “distressed” bank valuations is clear, the lifeline of higher rates is further beyond the grasp of banks globally. Yellen, Gundlach, Bass, JP Morgan, etc. talk about and research negative rates as if it is a “normal” conversation to be having.

There is an ebb and flow to the relative valuation of financials, but historically the equity markets struggle without the participation of financials. Going forward, bank balance sheets will more fortress like, less levered, and more conservative in their make up. CoCos (Contingent Convertibles) will make up a bigger proportion of the capital structure as there will be no “put” to their respective governments. Credit ratings will be lower, as no “lift” from implicit government support should be implied or expected.

Coming back to the car analogy, gone are the days of the V8, 4 cylinders, hybrids and full on electric are in vogue. Adjust your return expectations accordingly. JCG

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