Thursday, 3 January 2019

Working title - ‘FiX Up’

This is a repost of an idea I had for a film three years ago, considering what happened last night in  some of the currency markets with the coputer trading algorothms opnce again blamed for chaotic moves, I though it would be worth rerunning the pitch. 




The Pitch for working title ‘FiX Up’

After seeing the age of the criminals who pulled off the record-breaking Hatton Garden vault heist and at the same time witnessing the outrage at the FX market's fixing scandal, I thought I could marry up the two genres in a typically British film, the pitch of which I have sketched out below. I was wondering if this could actually be pulled together into a film so if anyone would like to talk to me about making this real then please get in contact.

The tale is a familiar one of old criminals (lags) getting together for one last job, only in this case the lags aren't criminals but old school 1980's FX dealers. Imagine Oceans 11 meets Trading Places meets Sexy Beast meets Wall Street (only the Essex version). The old trading lags come together to have one last crack at the markets, but do so behaving as they did in the 1980s causing all sorts of financial mayhem and amusement as they apply 1980s trading skills in an electronic world. (All characters are of course fictitious and any resemblance to ..etcetcetcetc)

Synopsis 

Sitting outside the clubhouse of a golf club in Essex, England, supping lagers, two old FX spot traders are discussing how things have changed since their day and despair over the news of FX fix fixing. They reminisce over the old days and decide that the traders of today must be completely stupid to be caught out doing something that they all did but nowhere near as blatantly. At this point, a waiter appears and while clearing the glasses catches their conversation and starts to chip in. He tells them that he was recently let go from an FX shop for not being profitable i.e. he didn't rip the clients off enough and regales them with a list of the absurdities of today's markets including algorithmic trading, arrogant Real Money fund desks, demanding Hedge funds, compliance officers and the regulators themselves.

The old lags start to fume at what has happened to their beloved market and decide that if a collection  of young muppets can so nearly get away with the FX fixing, but for being idiots, they would have a crack at showing them how it should be done, fiercing up the market one last time.

As with any good heist movie the target isn’t the public but the other evils in the market. The plot sees the old lags actions end up, Robin Hood style, benefitting the public good whilst taking down the modern evils on the way.

The two originators, Mickey and Danny, hatch a plan to get the boys back together.

The team cast list  (actor suggestions in brackets)

Mickey. ex-trader and now the groundsman at the Essex golf course (Ray Winstone)
Danny. ex-trader, recently made redundant from the back-office of an Aussie bank (Phil Collins)
Dave and Steve. ex-traders who are approached in one of those green taxi cafes in London as they are now drivers for  FX taxis (the two bald actors from Eastenders)
Bugle (real name Charlie).   As a young guy he was the 'muppet' on the spot desk but now is a corporate FX sales guy at a bank, about to be busted for peddling 'Charlie' to his clients. (Lee Evans)
Wayne. Now a compliance officer at a US bank. He doesn’t want to join, but they blackmail him with photos from a 1989 stag party. (Jim Broadbent)
Gerald.  A smooth investment bank type who used to be their boss in the old days who is now treasurer at a small private client bank but is about to be let go (Ralph Fiennes or Jeremy Irons).
Sparks.  Ran the primitive IT at the old shop but is now running a porn website. (Timothy Spalls)
Jimmy (but now prefers James).  The old economist cum strategist - nervous and lacking in confidence these days - he is now writing financial blogs and running a failing online private trading advisory service. His character regains its old force throughout the plot. (Colin Firth)
Beverley. Telex girl and everyone’s old fling. Now a house-mum in Romford (Patsy Kensit).
Archie.   An old-school french sales guy, always drunk but knows every important name in the European market as he has probably been whoring with half of them and slept with the other half (GĂ©rard Depardieu)

Each one has a scene of them being approached and finally accepting.

When they gather Sparks tells them of a bank’s disaster recovery dealing room he knows of that has been mothballed and as the owning bank is going under due to regulator fines they seem to have forgotten about it.

The lags break in and start to set up. There are scenes of them all larking around trying to understand the new technology (even though it is old by modern standards) whilst Sparks gets angry and Gerald has to read the riot act.

They set up dealing lines with dodgy prime brokers using the credit card numbers Sparks has hacked from the client list of a high-class City strip joint.

They start to trade and gain market credence by behaving as normally as they can though they often nearly let slip (such as asking for USD/DEM) which Sparks and Gerald have to cover via IT hacks and Gerald's connected shmoozing. E.g. when starting up they don’t know what an EBS is and nearly cause a flash crash by hitting it in anger (ends with Mickey throwing it out of the window and declaring that from now on its phone only like the old days. Cue more blackmailing calls to old-school voice broker types).

As they get bigger   investment bank sales desks hear of the volumes they are doing (facilitated by tip-offs from Archie to his sales mates)and start to court their business wanting direct access to this new client instead of via prime brokers. Wayne knows how to fool the Know Your Client regulations and Sparks links their credit references to those of a large Far East sovereign wealth fund, so large dealing lines are obtained.

Once all the credit lines are in place, it all sets up for the sting which is based around a set of data releases, could be non-farm payrolls or an important CB rate announcement (a bit 'trading places').

The announcement is way off expectations but instead of doing what would be expected they do everything that theoretically they shouldn’t.   James “ECB cut 1% much much lower than expected.. so boys what do we do with EUR/USD?… well, we should sell the sh*t out of it .. so… MINE MINE MINE”. The resulting price action confuses the hell out of the algorithmic trading models and new world theorists (cut to the odd 21yr old quant at a large investment bank muttering 'this shouldn't be happening'),

Cut to shot of the back of a chair in a chic glass office with a young preppy exclaiming to the occupant "We don't understand it, sir!" The chair swings around as its occupant, fingers steepled, quietly utters "I do". It is one of the old school macro hedge fund giants who was also around in the old days and was the lags' old nemesis (probably played by Ben Kingsley). The Hedge fund is called 'Nemesis'

The game then develops into a battle of old-fashioned phone trade spoofing with analogies to real battles. It’s mayhem and the weaponry expands as the old lags realise that the Hedge Fund Nemesis has more than they are used to - ‘Shit he's got f’king options, he’s using options! Where the f’k is Willy?" Willy is a retired prehistoric options trader who they call in last minute only to find he is on oxygen in a nursing home, but he starts to help via mobile phone and manages to talk them through countering the option attack via a massive option barrier battle with him directing the spot desk through his oxygen mask (highlights option market manipulation).

It is now 3.30pm and the old sales lags, Bugle and Archie, are preparing for the 4pm fixes. Sparks has hacked the financial chat services of other major banks and the old lag sales guys are now using them to offer all the real money fund accounts reverse spreads on the fixing prices, but only on sell orders.

Cut to Real Money dealing desk hearing this and giving the lags all of their sell orders despite a junior there asking how it can be possible to offer reverse pricing and says something dodgy is going on, but the Real Money traders saying they don't care, as they only have to outperform the fix and get paid themselves on the difference. Thus they fall into the trap.

Come to the 4pm fix, they manage to coordinate it so the hedge fund Nemesis is about to unleash hell on the boys filling their bids, but the boys pull the bid just as Nemesis screams SELL. The market melts on the back of it right into the fix. This screws the Real Money fix orders and the regulator, now seeing the fast move and receiving screams from the Real Money sector start to track down who was responsible - leading to the Hedge Fund Nemesis.

The rapid move in the fix also triggers a regulatory investigation as to how so many orders were affected leading to the exposure of the real money execution desks accepting reverse pricing.

In the background is the battle of the computer algorithms who can’t understand 6 standard deviation moves and there are scenes of barely out of teens quants and their ‘this shouldn’t happen’ cries. As the old lags notice stop losses coming in from the algo sector, they realise they have found the algo’s Achilles heel and crank up their 'do the wrong thing’ trading.

Meanwhile, Sparks has hacked into Bureau de Change style holiday money changers via his old porn site dropping viruses into their front offices (cut to bored young FX teller in a Heathrow Bureau de Change late at night surfing porn).

By now the traders are raking it in over the algos but when the team’s profits hit $1 billion they start to transfer their profits back to flat by providing stunning FX rates via all the usual rip off holiday money FX joints (cut to scenes at airports/train stations/post offices of queues of people taking currency out)

  When their P/L is down to zero they plan to pack up the dealing room and scarper. But it’s a race against time as the authorities are closing in having tracked Sparks' hacks and compliance officers finally seeing cracks. They make it out just in time but not until after the police are seen on the CCTV breaking in down below. Sparks shouts that the Feds are in. Mickey shouts “The Fed’s in?” and instinctively buys 300m USD/JPY before being stopped.

There is a resulting huge media storm. Investigators dragging off compliance officers for not preventing it, the Hedge Fund Nemesis for manipulating the market, the real money guys for accepting impossible fix prices for personal gain and the algo shops go bust amid scenes of riots against computer trading. Finally, Parliament rules that Bureau de Changes must provide interbank rates. There are TV clips of embarrassing statements from all.

The final scene is the police breaking into the dealing room the boys have been using to be greeted with a mess and a huge spray-painted slogan on the wall - “F'CKING MUPPETS’ (which will become a catchphrase forever linked with the film)

  Fade to Mickey and Danny outside the golf club chinking together their pints of cold lager.

--------------

Memorable scenes -

- Old lag calls new US Investment Bank dealer. New dealer -“He’s just given me a 100 and asked how I am left shag, what’s that mean? - He wants another price - But he’s just had one - Make him another - He sold again .. damn .. and again .. and again. Old lag marches the price down but then lifts the new kid in huge at a large loss. Old lag - ‘F’king Muppet’.

- The boys go to the pub for lunch and get legless coming back at 4.30pm - drunk behaviour party scenes, bins on heads etc. but hugely successful trading.

- A bank dealer to his older boss "That's odd, he just said that I am a monkey and put the phone down" Old boss asks "what EXACTLY did he say?", " He said 'you're a Monkey' and hung up" - Boss "SHIT! he said 'YOURS, a monkey'. A monkey is slang for 500, you are now long $500million USD/JPY and as I see it $500,000 underwater"

- Beverly being sent off to Mayfair to seduce the Hedge Fund’s critical quant over lunch in a smart Bistro/Cafe and dropping MDMA in his double espresso so that he goes back euphoric only doing nice things instead of the Hedge Fund God's instructions.

- One of the old lags deciding to be long or short by the way the crane outside the window is pointing.

- The team plan to hit the market on the US trade data. But nothing happens as no one cares about US trade data any more, only to be caught out when Non Farm Payrolls come out “What the f'k was that all about? NFPs? Not F’ing Playing.. that’s what I am ..”

- Old lags trying to visit old city haunts. Flashbacks to seedy pubs and omelette shops - all gone and replaced with Starbucks and glassy wine bars. Plus reminiscing lines of past bad behaviours.

- Gerald being told he is no longer needed at the merchant bank as a new US MBA non-market savvy geek is being moved in.

- The young kids around one of the old school brokers serving the old lags experiment with the old techniques gingerly trying to say “and thank you too .. errr Mr… Shag?”

- Willy, the options dealer, in the nursing home asking why the price is spiking every 2 seconds when he mistakes his heartbeat monitor for a trading chart.

- Compliance officers in the investment bank queried about the new customer a/c saying everything does seem to be in order as they have a copy of a passport and two recent utility Bills - a shot of one of the passports being that of a FIFA president.

- Old lag's first trade asking for Usd/Spain only to be told it doesn’t exist anymore. He screams "Ok Usd/Mark then". No not that either. He freezes in stunned disbelief.

plus many many others…………

Friday, 28 December 2018

A Guide to producing your annual 'Top Trades' predictions.

I have posted this before but I am reposting this slightly updated version as it is exceedingly pertinent considering what is hapoening in the markets. Many institutions and departments have already published their top trades and financial calls for the next year and I would like to know how many have already been stopped out of their trades for next year before next year has even begun. So here is a somewhat cynical guide to the whole process with some top tips for practitioners.

WHY

First, there is absolutely no point in embarking upon this process because only an idiot would put on a trade on Jan 1st and not look at it again until 31st Dec, with no positional adjustment during it. If everyone did this then the financial internet, press and even markets or exchanges would not have to exist between Jan 2nd and Dec 1st. Perhaps that's a good idea.

This process is much more like a yacht show where forecasting agencies can show off their shiny products of intricate design and process, wrap them with a glitz of gravitas to sell you a dream that you can sail off into next year aboard. If it doesn’t hit any rocks and sink then they hope you will be back to buy a bigger one next year.

HOW

The usual first rule of forecasting is never to put a price and time frame in the same forecast. For example ‘Oil will be over $100’ gives you an infinite time run within which to be right and 'Oil will be lower than here in the next year’ gives you a very high probability of being right unless you have unfortunately hit the absolute low at the time of prediction.

With this in mind, make sure your predictions are not for where prices will be at the end of next year, just somewhere during next year. This leaves you with a year of optionality to either get out or take profit, GS style.

Only publish your exit trades way after the event. For example, you called oil down, oil went down until Jan20th then up for the rest of the year - You cut the winning trade on Jan 20th. Of course you did.

WHEN

If you have to publish before the end of the year then don’t do so until Dec 31st. Doing so in November wastes a month of information to consider. Preferably publish your trades for next year in March, or even later. The first few months of the year nearly always go the wrong way (as 2014, '15, '16 and '18 have shown) and you will have three extra months of information to trade on. You also have the advantage of everyone else’s trades looking pretty stupid by then and investors looking for alternative sources of advice.

If you can, make the predictions for longer than just next year. Make them 5 year rather than one year forecasts and you get an extra four years of optionality with regard to the above methods but it also has two other advantages. First, you give off a greater air of authority having a five-year view rather than a one year view. Second and more importantly, after five years everyone will have forgotten your predictions except you, so if they are wrong it doesn’t matter. If you are right, you can wave them around in success and write a best-selling book and set up a large hedge fund doomed to lose all its assets.

WHAT

Of course what people actually care about is probabilities of outcomes and though I have often suggested that forecasters publish their own probability curves of price outcomes they still seem to stick with razor sharp defined price targets that, by definition, they are bound to miss. So best to put your 1 standard deviation range around a call. No one will mind and may prefer it. Either way, it won’t matter but does give you a wider chance of success.

Write exactly the opposite of the GS forecasts. If framed under the conditions of the first point you will still have opportunity to get out at a profit at some point and if you can show a profit against GS your views will be spread wide and far and you will appear on Financial TV, more because most people enjoy seeing GS look like a mug than your views being spectacularly right. If last year is anything to go by then you will have outperformed them by March.

Finally, even though the regular market faces of doom-mongering are beginning to be treated like quaint village idiots, remember to have an absurd couple of low-delta calamity calls in there. They can be camouflaged in sensible calls and will only get noticed if they are right.

WHO

Pick eight prices you are going to call, they can be as varied as you like, calling long or short for each. Then set up 256 new blog, Twitter, Seeking Alpha or some such identities. Using all the available permutations (2^8= 256) one of them is going to nail it exactly. This is who you now are. Wave this one around, write that book and set up that hedge fund. There are plenty of people out there still being dragged out for comment because they happened to have the lucky dice come up their way in 2000 or 2008. It could be you next year.

WAFFLE

All forecasts are now couched in as many pages of disclaimer as there are forecast. Make sure that each of your calls has 16 pages of arguments and appendices behind it. Come to the great reckoning there is bound to be something in this small print that can be held up as a caveat. E.g. 'though we call for US 10 year yields to go to 6% in 2017, should the Fed not raise to 5%, GDP not hit 10% and unemployment not fall to zero, we may see this trade underperform". Better still create your own benchmark and reference against it. "We see the suggested portfolio outperforming the Polemic risk-adjusted emerging developed market average weighted corporate bond fx hedged equity benchmark by 30 basis points on a chronological biased heuristic". Complete nonsense, of course, but a get out of jail free card when the time comes.

However, don't forget the 'unforeseen events' claus, such as Brexit or Trump which, though unforeseen by you, were foreseen by the majority of the population, proven by the fact they voted for it.

REPEAT

If all of the above is too complicated then just repeat the trade ideas that you put out last year, or if you are feeling very adventurous just extrapolate the last month's moves. It seems to be what most people do.

Monday, 24 December 2018

A Fairytale Of New York - 2018 remix (Ft D Trump and Ma Kets)


If The Pogues were to do 'Markets 2018' it may go something like this.



The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York (Official Video) from Terence Hawkins on Vimeo.


It was Christmas Eve babe
The markets stank
The pundits said to me, it's like '08 this one
Because it's all gone wrong
There’s no correction due
I turned my face away
And dreamed we’d pull through.

But Trump’s gone 'Erdogan'
Thinks he controls everyone
He’ll try to take Powell from me
And next the SEC
Not so much the KGB
He’ll probably leave that be
He’ll do it all alone.
But the markets are screwed

Short Tesla cars left me covered in scars
I got rogered in gold
And then Trump said ‘oil'
So I should have sold
When you look at my book
On a cold Christmas Eve
I promise you,
Bankruptcy's waiting for me

Fired Mattis
Fired Comey
And poor John F Kelly
When they finished leaving
He howled out for more
Scaramucci was swinging,
Then McGahn, he’ll be singing
Gary Cohn, he went missing,
This just isn't right.

The boys from the FOMC meet
Are singing “Raise away"
And the bells are ringing out
To sell today.

Oh Trump
You're a skunk
Turned my bonds into junk
Threatened the Fed, and my EM is dead.
You screwed trade, you cheap shot
And you don’t care one jot,
Oh MAGA, your arse
As your policy’s farce

The boys from the FOMC meet
Are singing “Raise away"
And the bells are ringing out
To sell today.

Got an unlucky one
Twenty eighteen’s a bum
But I've got a feeling
Next year we might pull through
So happy Christmas
Let’s hope that next year
Will be a better time
When our trades come true

The boys from the FOMC meet
Are singing “Raise away"
And the bells are ringing out
To sell today.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

BTP time bombs.

My last post was on Turkey and oil. Oil, only briefly to say it was turning and Turkey in a great long verbose way to say it was turning.

Last week every eye was upon the Turkish lira. But market attention is drawn not by absolute badness but by relative baldness, so the complete explosion in Italian politics over the last five days has drawn the macro tourists away from Turkey, leaving it free to pick itself up, dust itself down and become one of the world's best performing assets this week, knocking the socks off even the USA. Oil has also continued its downwards track leaving the long Turkey short oil trade looking like a podium winner. But there is no one even watching the champagne spraying ceremony because they have all dashed off to Italy.

Italy is really big stuff compared to the shakedown of a Turkish market that has already been seriously shaken down. If you think Turkey is a source of contagion in EM, you just have to watch what Italy can do to the DMs.

Italy is where risk and reward have been forced together between the huge clamps of ECB policy. Applying billions of Euros of force to the BTP market the ECB has managed to hold things for long enough to convince the market that Italian risk was not far off German risk and that Italian yields could be lower than US yields. And the money poured in on the implicit promise that the ECB would always be there and the explicit promise that they ‘would do whatever it takes'. Which is all fine as long as Italy doesn't decide to tear up its agreement with Europe and hence the ECB.

Unlike Turkey, Italy has a LOT of money parked in its debt markets. First, because it has a lot of debt and second because it pays more than the rest of core European. Finally, it will only lose you money if it defaults.

Losing money in bonds is a game of peek-a-boo. If you don't look at it won’t have cost you anything because any bond with a positive yield will, on full repayment at maturity, have made you money on an absolute basis. However, on a relative basis, things can be very different. Bond markets are about chasing the best yield and that implies relativity. Bond performances are barely ever measured against absolute return, instead choosing to be measured against a benchmark. So relative performance is absolutely key for measuring success. As soon as we have the relative performance we have to keep a track on how things are going and though we know we will get our money back in the end, if the value of bonds fall relative to the benchmark we are 'losing money’.

One obvious way not to be losing money, if we know we’ll always make in the end, is not to look at the price of the bond whilst holding it. 'No looky' no lossy'. Or no mark to market. This is what the ECB does with its holdings and that applies to the current 250bio it has on its books through QE. If it has no intention of selling them before maturity then there is theoretically no reason to mark them to market.

Funds are a different kettle of fish as investors constantly want to know what the worth of their assets are for value and for risk management sakes and that involves measuring them against current market prices. Kaboom.

Italy has always been a dirty little secret in real money portfolios. The long-term traditional real money accounts have huge amounts of higher (well, it was) grade Italian debt on their books under the title of European bonds. Desperation for yield and performance has forced many to wade into the 'Draghi guaranteed' higher yielder. There was little chance of being criticised by senior management for being long Italy, as to doubt Draghi was to doubt the existence of the Euro and therefore the existence of your own large European financial institution. If you know the event that blows up your fund also blows up the whole company then there is no relative disadvantage to holding them, if it blows up you lose your job either way.

When Europe started to recover and the Eurozone lift-off story started propagating 18 months ago, the chance of Italian default through local credit pressures was seen to fade and the demand from private hands to buy the previously considered toxic NPLs and sub-grade debt that was polluting Italian banks’ balance sheets was huge. The banks eagerly offloaded swathes of it and were starting to be classed as clean again. So banks were bought again too.

The purchasing of Italian based debt by private hands has been huge. Real money, hedge funds and SWFs own it and swathes of it have been built into all sorts of illiquid high-yielding structured products. The Italian banks are still holding enough of it together with government debt, to have some serious problems. Everyone is up to their necks in it.

The question is who has the longest mark-to-market interval. If you don’t have to look at the relative value then you might be able to ride this out as long as there is no default or restructuring into NuevoLira. But trying to keep a lid on exposures is going to become harder as time goes on. We are going to see fissures open up in places we probably haven’t yet imagined. Try picturing financial Europe as a Hawaii Big Island lava map. Even Herr Oettinger may find the soles of his feet warming up through German institutions' Italian debt holdings.

BTPs erupt in Portfolios


So in summary. I am a fader of peak 'tabloid' noise. Tabloid noise is indeed at a fever pitch. But in the case of Italy, we are not quite there yet. Mrs Watanabe has not yet sung and, though trying their best not to make any noise, those with Italian debt embedded in ‘safe' funds are going to be crying for their mamas before we see this over. Of course, that is unless Mr Draghi and the Eurocrats bow to quiet pressure to ‘just sort it out’.

I had wondered whether Italy might issue 250 billion of a 1000yr zero coupon BTP. They could exchange this with the ECB for all the shorter-dated stuff they hold and as ECB isn't mark-to-market, they would have effectively written off Italy’s debt. Just an idea.

Finally, its time to resurrect a post from 2014 which is once again very apt. Though my interpretation this time is that there is a lot more to worry about.

Monty Python's Four Italians sketch
https://polemics-pains.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-four-italians-sketch.html

Friday, 25 May 2018

Tabloid Turkey.

My Tabloid-o-meter shot into the red this week on two matters - Oil and Turkey. I have had very successful runs in both over the last two years but with the amount of noise surrounding them, I have reversed my positions as both are likely to correct. However, I am going to leave oil for now and concentrate on the Turkish noise.

Watching the crowds form around the Turkish sell-off is like watching a fight break out in the school playground.

Two kids start shoving each other, a crowd gathers, others see the crowd and ask what’s going on, more join as the playground’s attention starts to get sucked in by the gravity of the situation. They are told by those who didn't know what was going on what is going on, but Chinese whispers are propagating the further out the crowd is from the epicentre. Teachers are called and kids start Facebooking the action. The media notice and a reporter arrives, then the TV crews (let’s stay this is a Beverly Hills school) and suddenly a 'school-fight expert' is on the screens. To fill time and tighten the tension he even suggests that the fight might spread to neighbouring schools as gang culture is rife. Watching this on TV, parents pull their kids out from all the local school. Why? they don’t really need the reason, just the fact that their darlings have the smallest chance of being hurt is enough. Meanwhile, an enterprising guy opens a book on the fight, offering odds. People who have no clue about the antagonists are betting on the outcome. Seeing there is money to be made, big online betting sites get involved. Adverts appear extolling how much money can be made betting on the fight and an old man with ‘The End is Nigh' on a placard is spotted wailing outside the school. He's interviewed on TV as an expert on the upcoming global destruction. Finally ‘Phyghtchain' is ICO’d. The crypto coin backed by the physics of fight. Ten minutes after it launches someone in the centre of the scrum notices that the two scrapping kids have vanished, having been called home for their tea.

Well, that’s what it feels like, and pretty much encapsulates the anatomy of the past few EM crises. If you had faded the noise you would have made a lot of money.

Turkey has been firmly at the centre of my geopolitical radar for years, but the failed coup and the onset of the Putinisation of Erdogan had me shorting Turkey faster than a butcher on Boxing Day (26th Dec, for my non-UK readers).

The concerns being that Turkey was going to be a massive problem in the overlap of every sector of global politics. Add this to the price of coffee in Bodrum cafes and it looked like an obvious short. Yes, I do use a bit of coffee PPP as an indicator for when a country moves from EM to DM, usually through UM (Upstart Market, where they think they can charge alpine prices for emerging levels of service) and Turkey went UM very quickly in the early naughties.

The problem with starting the ball rolling on shorting Turkey was the yield. Yield is like a hill in the road. To get over it you need enough momentum in underlying price to overcome the drag of yield gravity. if you are paying 10+% of your returns away hoping for a move that is greater than that to pay you off, in a world where if you manage to make 5% as a fund money manager you are a hero, you need a really strong belief that you are going to get a big move your way. And this is where momentum comes in. If you travel fast enough up that hill of price then you will make it successfully to the other side in profit. While things grind along slowly it may not be worth the risk.

Until the day comes when something triggers the tipping point and the yield is no longer enough to pay for the risk in price moves. This is what happened with Erdogan's policy announcement that high interest rates were bad and weren’t going to be used to defend the currency. Boom. Momentum meant that prices were moving far faster than the yield could compensate for. Who cares about 16% p/a interest costs when you are getting 5% moves in a day? As momentum explodes the relative return of carry is diminished.

Those long of the carry trade were underwater and the risk-reward was seriously changed. Japanese yield hunters were finally triggered out of their positions (normally the last out) and the resulting sharp moves were what sucked in media attention and anyone thinking there was a buck to be made. Why has everyone piled in? Well… Well, a good question to ask is why are you selling TRY now rather than selling it a year ago at much better levels? The answers I hear back are that ‘this time is different’. Deficits, Balance of Payments, screwed up policy, political isolation and a rising US dollar and global rates.

So which bits of that are new?

Deficits and BoP are cited every time there is an EM sell-off, but we know from experience that investors are tarts enough to be bought off by high yield once things stabilise.

The screwed up policy and political isolation - these are based on Erdogan and I concur it is a long-term mess, but the balance of monetary policy position has shifted with the 300bp rate hike on Wednesday. The political situation is a very good reason to be concerned in the long-term but it isn't anything new to us.

Rising US rate and a strong dollar - This generic EM wasp spray is brought out every time there is an EM crisis. As seen in 2014 and 2016 it never ends up killing EM. It is also important when reading articles on the amount of dollar debt out there, to consider who owns it. EM dependency on US-based lending is waning. If EM issue USD debt and buy USD debt then as rates rise, yes, the borrowers suffer but the lenders gain. Often it is the same countries or companies who are both long and short - most of it is intra-China. So whilst I agree that higher US rates and a stronger dollar don't help matters it certainly isn't responsible for the chaos.

QE unwind? Money was cheap and it was easy to park it in high yield. But the reduction in liquidity is reflected in rates and a move in rates is yield differential and though US rates may be 2% higher than last time, Turkish rates are higher still. It’s a great back-fit story but it isn't the trigger or the ‘now’.

So, as with an old wedding cake being recycled for the first christening, we have the old baked reasons to sell Turkey re-iced with some new ones.

Turkey is still a tinderbox and Erdogan’s positioning in the world will have to be resolved before we can see any long-term improvement but I do not see this event as THE blow-up. EM blow ups are more like dud fireworks. They explode in your face when you go back to wonder why they hadn’t gone off. Early 2014 may be a good case in point to follow. We had maximum noise before Turkey ended up as the best performing EM of the year.

I do not see Turkey acting as a catalyst for a contagious event. It is an easy sensationalist game to play and Ambrose Evans Pritchard is at it already, quoting the head of the IIFF  but the world is now smart enough not to clump all ‘EM’ into the one fund-box it used to.

With noise at such levels and every macro tourist flocking to Turkey, I have turned my shorts into Turkish longs looking for momentum to fade and the weight of the carry costs tied to the ankles of TRY shorts to drag them, spluttering, underwater.



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Is the EU protectionist?

In response to the Tony Barber piece in the FT "The EU is no protectionist racket"



- The EU’s FTAs are quite narrow and include Rules Of Origin constraints on manufactured goods.

- These are primarily goods trade deals which suit France and Germany but would not suit the UK. They also seek to impose EU product standards (more on this later).

- Public procurement is an area of French and German strength. It is why public procurement is one of the very few services that has been included in recent trade deals the EU have signed. However public procurement falls under State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or is classified as national security concerns. So though on the face of it it looks like the EU isn’t being protectionist via the trade agreement when it comes to actually awarding the contracts practice, these concessions are never awarded to foreigners. They impose local regulatory standards or clauses to make sure this is the case. The inclusion of the public procurement clause is a concession that will never result in anything for the counterpart.

- The US is not an innocent party, but it does have a legitimate argument that China, Korea and Germany have taken unfair advantage on trade by following mercantilist policies that restrict domestic market access via regulatory measures. The US is seeking to use its leverage to adjust this relationship.

- The US has already stated it would like to have a trade deal with the UK. There would be cheaper food in the UK as a result. the argument over such things as chlorinated chicken can be defused by clearly labelling produce and letting the consumer choose (c.f. free range eggs).

- Of course, the UK should depart from EU regulatory alignment where it is in the national interest. That is the point of taking back control. A significant trade deal that opens up markets in services and food is eminently in our better interests.

- The Irish border issue is not legally solvable. A fudge is required and will be found. The UK will not police it even if the EU wants to. The EU is being overly legalistic on this front, and technology will ultimately provide the solution. Lawyers have too static a view of a dynamic world, especially in this respect. The tendency for Eurocrats to regulate for the now, or the past, rather than the future is also why the EU is not going to end up with thousands of City bankers. Banking functions, including trading, are going to be dominated by AI and we should expect to see the supra-national FANG model become the norm in banking. The computer may sit where the regulator tells it to sit but those programming it won’t.

- They are protectionist by insisting other standards that might not conform to Rules of Origin requirements (in themselves protectionist). Erecting blanket trade barriers with the UK, even with products that do match their standards, because the UK won't enforce all of their standards domestically is pretty close to the definition of punishment beatings and protectionism.

- Setting EU standards is a form and force of protectionism that tries to export the cost of European social models on the non-EU supplier countries. It requires these countries to completely change the way they produce goods etc and instantly puts them at a disadvantage with French/German firms. This is why Dyson moved his production to Malaysia: they stitched the rules up to the UK's disadvantage. As a result, he pays the EU external tariff to export Dysons to the UK.

- The most liberal of FTAs is the Australia /New Zealand agreement, which involves Mutual Recognition Agreements. These accept that both countries' regulators are competent enough to be accepted by the other without the need for harmonisation. Harmony in this sense, though sounding peaceful, is the forced infliction upon other countries by the EU of the EU’s way of doing things (do it the way we want you to do it, not the way you do it) to their protectionist advantage. If you don't submit to being 'harmonised' with EU standards then you cannot have market access. A more sensible view would be that developed countries, by and large, have high enough product standards and service regulation that they should have Mutual Recognition Agreements instead of harmonisation.

-THIS IS NOT ABOUT TARIFFS, it's about Non-Tariff Barriers - which the EU excels at imposing. It's a French national pastime - remember the Battle of Poitiers with VHS recorders coming in from Japan? Why do they want to stop the UK from keeping the City? Because they want the business. True free-traders would allow it to continue with regulatory cooperation and Mutual Recognition. The BoE/FCA/PRA are amongst the best financial regulators in the world from a financial stability standpoint. The ECB et al, in appealing to financial stability risks as a reason for on-shoring, are applying the same logic as warning that building a bridge across the Thames will decimate the boat building business. It's protectionist.

- If the EU have always been such a liberal free trade loving union then why has it taken them decades to come up with these FTAs? Could it be that they feel threatened by the UK leaving? The UK had been pushing for such agreements years ago to no avail. If they had progressed with these earlier it may have defused some of the arguments for Brexit.

- Finally, let’s not forget that the EU’s very existence is based on a bilateral protectionist agreement to protect French agriculture and German steel and coal.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Behavioural gamma and fractal attractions - I blame the Russians.


I am fast wondering if someone has perfected the ultimate 'hunt and destroy’ algo trading weapon. The development of programs that can sniff out other’s stop levels and micturate all over them before running off maniacally laughing with their positions has been around for years, but the precision with which market moves have sliced and diced the flesh from many a portfolio this month has me wondering if the Russians have developed the killer algo of all killers.

I don’t really wonder if it’s the Russians, I more expect someone else to wonder if it's the Russians because if anything that involves a computer and cannot be easily explained, or rather can be easily explained by ‘yeah ok, I was dumb not to see that coming’ but we don’t want to say that - it's blamed on the Russians. I use it all the time now. My wife popped out of the room during ‘Call the Midwife’ on Sunday night and when she returned the TV was tuned to ‘Dragons Den’. I told her it must have been the Russians as I didn't know where the remote was. She couldn’t find it either to turn the channel back, thus proving my point. We also found that the Russians had turned the thermostat down in our house from 24C to 20C, which I can cope with but the Russians, as my dear wife pointed out, have also cut the power to all the wires and chargers by my bed, emptied the fridge of high-fat foods and hidden my favourite clothes. Damn cunning, these Ruskies.

Markets have turned ‘difficult trading’ into a form of waterboarding. I don’t need to talk you through the details of various asset swings over the last few weeks but if you have a position and your stop loss is in the range zero to infinity,  there is a good chance you have been stopped out. Unless you are an investor, in which case you have waved your hand in a marginally dismissive way whilst tilting your head slightly back to peer down your nose and languidly intone, “No my dear chap, I'm an investor, not a speculator, my investments are to provide me with long-term returns”. Which actually translates to - “ I haven’t got a clue what is going on with the markets as I had a chap come round to the house who sold me this marvellous long-term investment fund, no I don't know what the fees are actually, that I don’t have to look at as he assures me that it will pay me handsomely when I retire. Mr Woodford’s something or other”.

I was taken out today. Out of gold longs, stock shorts, and lunch. Only one was pleasurable.  Mourning the loss of my gold position, I bought a new one as I applied my trading maxim - 'the best time to enter a position is just after you have been stopped out of it’. Sad, but unfortunately true recently.

If you had your screens off for the last 36hrs you could well ask "what Fed minutes?"





This sort of thing hurts when you are suffering from  'fractal attraction’ and  'behavioural gamma'. When you don’t know what is going on you have some choices.

1- Carry on, pretending you do know what is going on - you may get lucky
2- Walk away - Clever, clever, clever.
3- Get angry that you don't know what is going on and make it a mission to know what is going on in an ever more dangerous search down the old mine of broken dreams - Danger danger danger Will Robinson.

Or perhaps Lassie - “What's that Lassie? You saw Polemic trying to dissect every price move down to a 3minute chart looking for patterns in order to look for breakouts that would define the next big move? And you think he needs rescuing? Nah.. he’ll already be dead"

The 'fractal attraction' is the drilling in on tighter and tighter time frame charts in the search for a pattern. Each zoom showing pretty much the same pattern, or lack of one, as the previous. Fractal-like. The 'behavioural gamma' is the chasing of any move that looks as though it is setting the next direction, as you really don't want to miss out, only for you to be caught out on a reversal and have to chase it the other way. Behavioural gamma increases dramatically when there isn’t a fitting narrative. It isn’t options gamma, as it is linked to behaviour not a mathemantically derived hedging demand, but I suppose you could imply a link between behavioural gamma and options gamma stemming from the same source of uncertainty.

One could even go so far as to cogitate if one drives the other or that the total sum of behavioural and options gamma is constant. But my mind is wandering too far.

I guess the point of this ramble is to say. Don't get sucked in. When you don't know what’s going on, walk away, as curiosity may well be terminal feline flu.

Just blame the Russians.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

GRReat - the Global Risk Repricing



First a recap -

10 days ago -

My best case is that no narrative can be ignored and all have their strengths.  But instead of them each being a separate diagnosis of different potential diseases they are all symptoms of a single greater one. They are all building into a great big superstorm of grief encapsulated in a super-narrative

Inflation, corrections, a spike in volatility (really an increased cost of insurance), problems in leverage, US bonds, problems in risk parity, China sell-offs, Junk bonds sell off, aren’t all separate but are all part of the same single story - the new super-narrative of ‘The great global risk repricing'

A sudden spasm of awakening to true risks may now be underway.  For years we have been saying that credit is too cheap and that junk bonds are way too expensive and that leverage has been practically free. I hate to hark back to QE, as we know that it has spawned a rash of ridiculous pricing, but this, folks, could be the big one with regards to waking up and smelling the coffee. Free money does not mean any risk.

This reassessment of risk perceptions can also include US Treasuries. If there is a chance that they are no longer the ultimate safe haven then the schism would have dire consequences for the stability of current investment theory. No, I am not saying that US Treasuries aren’t safe as houses, I am saying that all you have to have is people questioning them for problems to kick off as soon as Monday.

And that is why waiting for bonds to go up to know if this is over is all the more important, If they don’t then it is really bad news.

Currencies have worn this move fairly well. Yes, they have moved with the classics like AUDJPY doing the risk off thing, but considering the size of the equity moves they are hanging on in there. Most notably,  the popular position of short USD hasn't really seen much of an unwind but it should be considered as part of the short UST trade. This is not about rate differentials anymore, as we have seen the divergence of rate differentials vs FX widen for the past few months, but about underlying trust in the US to manage its affairs. It's part of the risk adjustment as the US and USD have moved a notch right along the scale between Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

So what do we do? the trader in me wanted to buy on Friday, so I did, but the pragmatist thinks this is far from over.


And then 7 days ago - Shorting the CPI and being stopped out. 

I have to say that today was a hero to zero day for me in equity land. I played the CPI figure perfectly as stocks decided that the inflation story really. really is a concern. Until it isn't. And that ‘until it isn’t’ occurred about 15 seconds after maximum 'it is a really, really big concern'. That was when perfection vanished in a puff of humility and the ‘natural bounce up off the lows'  spent the rest of the day grinding higher up to new highs.

I am not too shy to own up to the stock shorts costing me money. I hate grinds, they are worse than sharp moves mostly because sharp moves engulf your emotions in one hit, whilst grinds tie you naked to a chair and beat your bits with a knotted rope until you are finally put out of your misery by the pistol to the head of a stop loss.

But I JUST KNOW that  US stocks will now tank. But if I don't understand why equities are going up then I must get out. Understand? That where your narrative fits whatever it is you want it to fit, but unless someone takes a 3ft pipe bending machine to the current narrative of ‘it’s inflayshun innit’ to make it fit with today’s moves then I am afraid this narrative is broken

We are getting through narratives faster than plates in a Greek restaurant.

Since then.

I licked my wounds until Monday when I started shorting things again. I couldn’t bear to think about missing the big dump. Why Monday?

Momentum was fading and we had just had a new narrative on the block - Double deficit. The double-deficit was the next big thing. But double deficits are like herpes to many countries. Many have them but are mostly unnoticed. They are a pain and you don't want to give them to anyone but the worst they normally do is sting and everyone points, rings bells and shouts ‘unclean!’.  But when something else comes along they fade away into the background to reside in the ganglion of government statistics. A double deficit? How quaint.

We can have double deficits narrative and we can have inflation narrative and we can combine them in a theory of the US crowding out, but to combine them requires something to happen - risk assets have to reprice lower and the overall discount rate applied to US assets has to go up to compensate for future USD depreciation. Meanwhile, a bit of risk premium creeps into apparently risk free assets.

Now the inflation narrative is only supportive of stocks and commodities and emerging markets if it’s cost-push inflation. In this scenario, short end rates rally a touch as Fed lags as it is cost driven. But if the inflation is demand-pull inflation we have a different position as the Fed will tighten faster, real yields will go up, bear flattening the curve and stocks will fall as the market starts to worry about a potential recession from a potential Fed over tightening.

So we have both inflation and double deficit - stocks down
Cost-push inflation - stocks up
Demand-pull inflation - stocks down

Two out of three are down for stocks.

Today the Fed showed their hand and stocks fell.

And now?

I am hoping that the narrative will now find some clarity, but I am still very aware that this narrative is US-centric, yet major panicky moves are always contagious. So I am constantly watching everything else.

Europe - It’s a bit sad we have had the Brexit vote in the UK, not because of the result but because of the shading, it has put on the reporting of Europe. In the salons of London, it is considered terribly bad form to point to concerns in Europe because having declared an avid will to remain in the EU casting criticism on anything European is seen as handing sharp object s to the leavers.

The AfD is rising in popularity in Germany (I read something that they are now the 2nd most popular party).  Italian elections are on the way and have all the hallmarks of doing a Brexit/Trump in providing a ’shocking' result as the concerns of the basic voter are dismissed as socially incorrect and troubles shuffled under the official carpet.  Greece has just failed to get its latest round of bailout money, Ok, they will but it is a reminder that the new glass tower of the European economy is built upon the limestone caverns of past debt mismanagement and a sinkhole could open up at any moment.

Back in 2016, I think it was for my ‘thoughts for 2017', I suggested that Europe problems could be obscured as long as economic growth kept everyone happy. This is what we have seen. The concept of default risk has evaporated and even Italian banks have been able to offload what was previously considered as toxic waste under a new wrapper of 'high yield' to private hands. Let's also not forget what Portuguese government debt is yielding. Less than US treasuries the last time I looked - now there IS a changed narrative.

But I can’t forget what is out there and how every thread of favourably reassessed credit risk leads to the door of the ECB.

The concentration of credit risk that has flown into the ECB is stupendous. Of course, it isn’t default risk because the ECB can QE until its heart content. But how content will that heart continue to be when Draghi is replaced by Darth Weidmann, commander of the Bundeathstar. I saw comments that the SPD approved of his appointment. That’s not a story. The story would be if Syriza approved of his appointment. He is a very clever man to move onto that throne under the cover of a benign economy, but even today the PMIs of Europe began to disappoint.

We tend to look at whatever is the current issue with respect to the world rather than in balance with the rest of the world. When the EU has a crisis, it’s just an EU problem and the US is just fine. When Britain has a Brexit wobble then it's Britain's wobble and the EU is just fine. Rarely are the comparative strengths and weaknesses observed and considered. One part of the equation is anchored whilst the other is considered the variable.

But maybe it isn’t. We think this a US-centric issue in the markets but we must watch out and be impartial in our judgments. Though we have global growth masking other problems, once the problems arise, global growth can collapse.

I am still playing the macro short on risk but am desperate for low-risk yield. I just think that all risk is priced too low as we enter the Great 'Global Risk Repricing’ which I hereby copyright as the GRR. Grrrrrrr indeed.

When it occurs the central banks are going to have a knife edge to walk between loosening, to counter the restrictive function of higher risk premia and tightening, to counter the inflationary effects we are already seeing. As they say with great comedy. "the secret is in the t t t timing",

If they get it right, they won't have to do anything as tightening of risk premier does their job for them. GRReat.

But the risk rolls on.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The diary of a messed up market day.



Well. Well Well. Or ‘three holes in the ground”, as my uncle used to say. That was a day.

The last two weeks have so far seen

Meltdown Monday
Turnaround Tuesday
We'll be OK Wednesday
Thumped Thursday
Found a base Friday
Make up your mind Monday
Trying Hard Tuesday

and today?
WTF Wednesday

I have to say that today was a hero to zero day for me in equity land. I played the CPI figure perfectly as stocks decided that the inflation story really. really is a concern. Until it isn't. And that ‘until it isn’t’ occurred about 15 seconds after maximum 'it is a really, really big concern'. That was when perfection vanished in a puff of humility and the ‘natural bounce up off the lows'  spent the rest of the day grinding higher up to new highs.

I am not too shy to own up to the stock shorts costing me money. I hate grinds, they are worse than sharp moves mostly because sharp moves engulf your emotions in one hit, whilst grinds tie you naked to a chair and beat your bits with a knotted rope until you are finally put out of your misery by the pistol to the head of a stop loss.

I think I might have been watching too much McMafia. Actually, that James Bond and Le Chiffre reference stemmed from a picture I saw of Macron in a Bloomberg article this morning and it just struck me how much Macron looked like Le Chiffre from Bond’s latest Casino Royale.






But I JUST KNOW that  US stocks will now tank. But if I don't understand why equities are going up then I must get out. Understand? That where your narrative fits whatever it is you want it to fit, but unless someone takes a 3ft pipe bending machine to the current narrative of ‘it’s inflayshun innit’ to make it fit with today’s moves then I am afraid this narrative is broken

We are getting through narratives faster than plates at a Greek restaurant.

I fell for that inflation one I really did. I even thought about what would do well in an inflationary world and thought.. hmm stocks could do well in an inflationary world because they hold tangible assets that are inflating so the value of them must go up against a deflating USD. Unless they own large amounts of debt and the cost of funding that goes up faster than the inflating asset values. I then thought this is getting complicated as I'll need to know the debt levels of the companies and if they are fixed or floating against which benchmarks and which currencies and where their manufacturing vs sales is and and ...  and then I stopped. It was all too much.

I'd wandered into this because my favourite dodgy high beta oil stocks that went to cash like everything else on the 12th Jan, might be worth buying again as I think we might be near the end of the oil dump. Have you noticed how correlated it is to SPX price moves?

But the problem with my dodgy oil stocks is that they have large loads of debt and funding that, relative to where rates were a month ago, would mean that oil will have to be a lot higher than its last recent peak. So I haven't bought them. I just bought oil instead. It’s always worth remembering that if you think something is going to go up or down, instead of getting clever with correlated stuff, just buy or sell the thing you think will go up or down. For example, with oil, don’t mess around with NOK/JPY FX thinking you are being clever, just buy oil.

The only consolation was a ‘that doesn't look right' enlarging of my long gold positions in the low 1320s and I did buy gold mining stocks, including some very dodgy ones. I even bought an ETF of gold miners (an ETF? In this environment? Are you mad?). It would be great if someone could inform all the goldbug loons of yesteryear, who took their evangelistic crusade to crypto-land, to come back because their one true Messiah is risen again. I never thought I'd miss them but we should point out that burying your gold coins in the backyard of your log cabin leaves your assets a little more accessible than down a phone wire that those pesky government agents, who you are sure you saw spying on you in the woods, could cut.

So that's been my day. I have ended it by kicking myself for not standing true to my initial beliefs that led me to eject all my positions in mid-January ahead of Martin Luther Turn Day. as defined in my post 4 days ago. 


1- Markets take off in January en masse in the direction set by all those ‘2018 trades of the year’. This sets consensus.
2- The week after Martin Luther King day, or Martin Luther Turn Day as I prefer to call it, together with the first expires, can often trigger a turnaround.
3- The start of February sees a peak crisis in something - EM, Bank Balance sheets, whatever.
4- This causes first round damage in the assets associated with the assumed crisis.
5- This causes losses which need countering by selling other assets that are in profit
6- This sees a cascade unwind in anything that is leveraged and heavily positioned.
7- Narratives chase price moves but are usually later proven to be incorrect.
8- These February washouts of the consensus trades of the year slowly settle down and reverse, leaving March as the time to really put on your trades of the year.


Good luck out there, I've had as much adrenaline as I can take for a fortnight. It made the skiing holiday look tame.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Vol up!

Apologies to Cameo for busting apart their "Word Up'



Yo option traders around the world
Got a weird thing to show you
So tell all the sales and the clients
Tell your bosses, your brokers and risk manager too
'Cause we're about to go down
And you know just what to do
Wave your hands in the air like you actually care
Shout 'delta' and 'vega' as they start to look and stare.
Do your dance, do your dance, do your dance hedging gamma
Come on baby tell me, what's the vol

Vol's up! Everybody says
When you sell the call and the put you've got short vol all the way
Vol's up - it's the VIX word
No matter how you hedge it, you want to use the F word

Now all you sucker VIX sellers who think it's a fly
There's a reason they’re so complex and we know the reason why
Why you put on those shorts and you act real cool
Got to realize that you're acting like fools
If there’s profit we abuse it
Your ETNs are pants
You’ll lose your shirt every time, we know that in advance
They're just pants, they're just pants, they're just pants bleeding gamma
Come on dummy, sell me all that vol

Vol's up! It's end of days
When you hear the puts are offered, you know it's CTAs

Dial V for Vol, Dial V for VIX, Dial 911 for help
Vol up, Vol up, Vol up, Vol up

Yeh you sucker XIV buyers who think you're fly
There's got to be a reason and we know the reason why
Why you buy this toxic waste and you act real cool
Got to realize that you're acting like fools
We give you premium in advance.
But we lie and say your profits, this crap will sure enhance
Won’t Enhance, won’t enhance, won’t enhance, only stuff your gamma
Come on baby buy my inverse vol.

Vol's up, making commentators days
When you hear it on TV, all you can do is pray.
Vol's up! It's the news word
No matter how you hedge it, you know you own a turd


Saturday, 10 February 2018

What happens next? The great global risk repricing.

Following swiftly on from the last post's synopsis of the changing narratives of last week, in the famous words of a UK TV sports quiz show, it's time for "What happen's next"? When a clip is shown and the contestants have to guess the, normally unlikely, outcome.

The clip shows US equities falling over, bashing heir head and looking dead only to spasm as we freeze the frame. So .. what happens next?

Friday felt like fear but the rally into the close makes this all the harder to call as both camps have ammunition.

For the bounce -

Nothing has really changed, the US economy is doing well, indeed it’s very success is what has triggered this fall.

Company earnings are booming and are not going to fall. In fact dividend yield on stocks has just gone up 10% due to the price drop. Thank you.

We needed a healthy correction. That was it. The weak holders are now out and will no doubt be sucked in slowly as prices rise again pushing them up further. Effectively we have more marginal buyers wanting to get back on the bus now they have been thrown off.

It isn't that bad, we are only back to last Noveber prices.

Why should overseas investors in overseas stocks be concerned about domestic US inflation? European investors in European stocks, where the ECB is still slow to drain liquidity, should see more reason to buy.

The size of that fall and the way it worked over the last two days saw the market move from 'unconcerned' to 'doubtful' to 'fear', only to see everything rebound into the close on Friday. We are done.

It was indeed just a volatility blow out, the ripples are settling.

It was a typical February positional wash out across all asset classes, hanging on an excuse of the labour data that tripped some ridiculous leverage in silly products. Over positioning of the year favorites has been rationalised and we can get on with it all again.


And for the trouble ahead -

It ain’t over until the fat cow squeals. the fat cow being the sacred cow position of short US treasuries.

If USTreasuies because what I saw as fear on Friday isn’t anywhere near fear yet and we are still in a complacent mode. this complacency can be reflected in headlines I saw on Friday saying we had ‘entered a corrective phase’ #. Entered a corrective phase? we entered a corrective phase two weeks ago! The sign should say; “Thank you for visiting corrective phase, only 2 days to meltdown, drive safely!"

Volatility lingers - from my last post on the last two week's action

One of the consequences of measures of volatility moving is that it affects how much leverage you can have in your portfolio. The lower the volatility in an asset the lower the assumption of risk in holding it. Value at Risk, or VaR models, dominate bank, traditional fund and, most importantly, algorithmic funds. When the number you use as a volatility input increase you have to reduce your holdings even if you still consider your base argument for holding them valid. It depends on the time frame of allocations, these can be instant in high-frequency models, to monthly for old-fashioned real money to really slow with retail. Value and volatility shocks linger in the darkest crevasses of portfolio management for ages. It's like oil on beaches after tanker spills.


That US Stocks are only back to where they were in November, meaning that losses for many are only lost profits not losses versus original investment, can be read as suggesting that many are still long.  I know this is nitpicking for mark to market, especially with a year-end real in between, but for retail it’s a psychological 'get out of jail' card. You can bet that every IFA out here is telling their clients not to worry. Probably because they haven’t yet worked out the reason to sell. This is a tell that there are many trapped longs out there praying for buyers to come back in.

But who? Real money funds have not liquidated on this and are probably as caught as retail. yet they have been sitting off record loads of cash so what are they going to spend to buy with. the wall of retail certainty will have dried up too. Of course, we will have the ‘just a dip’ buyers return but that doesn't mean it’s over. As we saw last Tuesday, buying dips and seeing a run-up doesn't mean you are right.

If this really is a US inflation story then why indeed are global stocks melting? The case for buying says that if this is US Centric that we need not fear in rest of the world. But the corollary is that as everyone else assets are dumping then this is not US-centric and the narrative is wrong.

The inflation story may just be the next narrative that will be questioned and thrown away as greater fear of unknown emerges.

This has become a global risk sell-off for equities and has started to become a general risk sell-off, but rather than looking at my usual ‘February, favourite trade squeeze’ what if this is something else?

What I am suggesting -

My best case is that no narrative can be ignored and all have their strengths.  But instead of them each being a separate diagnosis of different potential diseases they are all symptoms of a single greater one. They are all building into a great big superstorm of grief encapsulated in a super-narrative

Inflation, corrections, aspike in volatility (really an increased cost of insurance), problems in leverage, US bonds, problems in risk parity, China sell-offs, Junk bonds sell off, aren’t all separate but are all part of the same single story - the new super-narrative of ‘The great global risk repricing'

A sudden spasm of awakening to true risks may now be underway.  For years we have been saying that credit is too cheap and that junk bonds are way too expensive and that leverage has been practically free. I hate to hark back to QE, as we know that it has spawned a rash of ridiculous pricing, but this, folks, could be the big one with regards to waking up and smelling the coffee. Free money does not mean any risk.

This reassessment of risk perceptions can also include US Treasuries. If there is a chance that they are no longer the ultimate safe haven then the schism would have dire consequences for the stability of current investment theory. No, I am not saying that US Treasuries aren’t safe as houses, I am saying that all you have to have is people questioning them for problems to kick off as soon as Monday.

And that is why waiting for bonds to go up to know if this is over is all the more important, If they don’t then it is really bad news.

Currencies have worn this move fairly well. Yes, they have moved with the classics like AUDJPY doing the risk off thing, but considering the size of the equity moves they are hanging on in there. Most notably,  the popular position of short USD hasn't really seen much of an unwind but it should be consdiered as part of the short UST trade. This is not about rate differentials anymore, as we have seen the divergence of rate difererentials vs FX widen for the pat few months, but about underlying trust in the US to manage its affairs. It's part of the risk adjustment as the US and US has moved a notch right along the scale between Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

So what do we do? the trader in me wanted to buy on Friday, so i did, but the pragmatist thinks this is far from over.



I will run my long with a trailing stop ready for part 2 as so far that may have only been part 1.i and 1.ii.

I can't help but think that gold is looking exceedingly attractive.

The changing narratives of a market dump.


It’s February and I have been using Twitter more than the blog as, in effect, most of my thoughts are pretty simple and don’t need expounding but it is probably worth pulling everything together for the record and to evaluate the 'what happens next'

As regular readers know I have a regular concern about the way markets start new years, which can effectively be summarised

1- Markets take off in January en masse in the direction set by all those ‘2018 trades of the year’. This sets consensus.
2- The week after Martin Luther King day, or Martin Luther Turn Day as I prefer to call it, together with the first expires, can often trigger a turnaround.
3- The start of February sees a peak crisis in something - EM, Bank Balance sheets, whatever.
4- This causes first round damage in the assets associated with the assumed crisis.
5- This causes losses which need countering by selling other assets that are in profit
6- This sees a cascade unwind in anything that is leveraged and heavily positioned.
7- Narratives chase price moves but are usually later proven to be incorrect.
8- These February washouts of the consensus trades of the year slowly settle down and reverse, leaving March as the time to really put on your trades of the year.

With this in mind, I approached the third week of January with huge caution, switching holdings to cash, but Martin Luther Turn Day came and annoyingly it didn’t produce the falls, which was FOMO painful. However, month-end was looming and it wasn’t hard to calculate that, with bonds having fallen and equities have risen so much, rebalancing of assets in funds was going to see some very large selling of equities and buying of bonds.

The large size of equity selling occurred in the days running up to the end of the month but there didn’t appear to be the bond buying. However, the narrative of ‘just month end’ still accommodated the equity move leaving those long excused from their positions.

But the 'end of month’ narrative had an expiry date - the end of the month - and though this had passed we saw no bounce in stocks and the amplitude of intraday swings in equity prices was picking up (normally a turn signal).

Friday morning had me scratching my head as to why traded volatility wasn’t rising


We didn’t have to wait long. The US data showed a growth in wages. This flickered like a force 4 tremor on the seismometers along the San Andreas fault of inflation concerns. Bonds sold off again and stocks fell heavily, with inflation concerns triggering ‘just stop losses’ as the inflation story had been a back-burner narrative for a while. However, we know that ‘just stop losses’ is on a par with quoting Fibonacci levels in the league of ignorance of real reason.

With both bonds and equities lower, attention turned to the 'risk parity' sector with it now being blamed for the stop loss action. Risk parity funds switch between bonds and equities as historically when one falls the other rises, hence keeping risk levels constant, but now we had bonds and equities falling sharply. So, it was assumed, it must have been them. Even volatility was polite enough to move with VIX a whole point and a half up from 13.5 to 15.

Now a quick brief here to anyone reading this who is scratching their heads over what this volatility product thing is. Experts, please jump this.

Volatility is a mathematical measure of how fast and far a price moves. It is a historic measure as you need to know how far and fast something has moved to work out how far and fast it has moved.
But volatility is also the key ingredient to pricing an insurance policy. If you know how far and fast something has moved in the past you make ASSUMPTIONS as to how far and fast it will move in the future. This assumed future volatility, though psychologically referenced through price anchoring to past volatility is basically an informed guess.
The maths used to calculate insurance policies or options as we like to call them in finance, the Black-Scholes model, can pin down every variable (Exercise price, forward prices, interest rates, discount rates, time, etc) but there is always an unknown variable (otherwise we are saying the future is certain) and this unknown variable all boils down to one number called 'implied volatility’. And this is what is traded in options markets. 
The word ‘implied' should be the clue to the danger here because as this is the only effective unknown the equation, should the price of the option change, even though basic demand (say a corporate wants to hedge a large overseas future payment) then the implied volatility changes too. This does not mean that actual price volatility of the underlying asset will change even though the implied volatility has. Nor does it mean that, as volatility is so closely linked to implied probability in the equations, that any actual probabilities have changed. 
Basically, it may IMPLY that probabilities have changed but it doesn't mean they actually have. It is worth comparing this to CDS pricing where the same calculations are made as it too is an insurance product, where many confuse CDS prices with the actual probability of default.
So with this in mind we look at the next derivative of implied volatility - which we have already decided is a derivative of the maths of guessing where prices will be in the future - the VIX. This is an index of lots of specific implied volatilities from lots of different assets in different time frames. If you think it is simple then just look here to correct that view. Yet this index is bet upon in its pure form through a futures market and as soon as something can be bet upon as a future it is assumed to be clean and pure. As this future can be bought and sold and held in a portfolio the dangerous next step is to consider it as an asset rather than the complex hypothetical maths derivate of the future unknown that it actually is.
As this comfort grows funds are structured to hold these futures in ETFs and ETNs. and if the movement in these ends seems pretty small they are geared up by leverage to multiple factors in specialist ETFs. Finally, a product is offered a product that goes up when implied the VIX goes down - the XIV (as in VIX reversed, not the French king Louis XIV, though they both suffered excruciatingly painful deaths). 
As stock prices had been rising strongly for a year demand for hedges against them falling had dropped. And so implied volatility fell too. (I won't get on to the asymmetric behaviour of volatility but it is worth bearing in mind that historic volatility can be as high on strong up moves as it can be on down, but the way people associate implied volatility is that it goes up on price falls). 
This created a trend which was observed as an trend in a true asset and was sold as such. As soon as past performance can be cited as a reason to buy then a dangerous feedback loop evolves (see Bitcoin). Money poured into the trend with very little idea of what was actually being bought, indeed funds themselves started to sell volatility to increase there own performance having missed out on the stock moves. 
We even saw people study these products with technical analysis like an asset, adding trend lines, oversold/overbought lines and Fibonacci levels (see above) to it. The distance they had stretched from the reality of what drove these things had reached parsec levels. But it had already established itself as a legitimate hedging tool and had become embedded in countless financial products and bank and fund positions.   

So what happened?

Monday saw the dormant VIX crack as leveraged trades in toxic products cascaded down the tree of hedges into ‘have to sell stocks’ which just pushed up volatility making it all worse.Volatility skyrocketed, both implied and actual. I am not going to quote a number it hit because different time frames have different values and I could just pick, as the press does, the most impressive. They were already performing statistical crimes by reporting that volatility had gone up 100% when it had gone up from 14% to 28% (that's up 14%).

Even with this massive 10% move in stocks the narrative of explanation was still not concerned that this was anything to worry about in the longer term. It had moved from 'just month end', through 'just stops on wage data' to 'just an explosion in mad dog leveraged lunatic esoteric products'.

Which is somewhat ironic as on this basis it would be clear that the crash had been caused by everything that posts 2008 enforced regulations and been put in place to rid us of - ridiculous leverage in products that are toxic, bought by punters who have no clue and sold by spivs who point at past performance to sell them. It was textbook.

Tuesday saw the ‘volocaust’ settle down as volatility products were now the assumed culprit and this wasn’t a reason to sell global risk. But even though VIX, which was by now as keenly watched for direction as stocks themselves (another example of the tail wagging the dog). A rally in stocks was assumed to be great news that everything was settling down and the 'volocaust' was passing, but massive moves up in the underlying asset can be as representative of chaos in a volatility market as much as down, as delta hedges in the underlying get more desperate. A rapid up move did not mean volatility was falling even if implied volatility was.

Global assets were now wobbling. If this was indeed just an esoteric product wobble then why on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning did Chinese and Japanese stocks put in such a battering? Moves like that in China, without anything else to look at, would normally of themselves because for a mini global rout (2015) but these were being studiously ignored.



Wednesday saw rallies, which made my China theory look iffy and reinforced the 'it's just vol' story - until the close, which was dreadful. Stocks were being dumped again.

One of the consequences of measures of volatility moving is that it affects how much leverage you can have in your portfolio. The lower the volatility in an asset the lower the assumption of risk in holding it. Value at Risk, or VaR models, dominate bank, traditional fund and, most importantly, algorithmic funds. When the number you use as a volatility input increase you have to reduce your holdings even if you still consider your base argument for holding them valid. It depends on the time frame of allocations, these can be instant in high-frequency models, to monthly for old-fashioned real money to really slow with retail. Value and volatility shocks linger in the darkest crevasses of portfolio management for ages. It's like oil on beaches after tanker spills.

Thursday saw another leg downwards as things were now starting to look global. China was still steadily falling, FTSE was now down 10% off the highs, the DAX was in serious trouble (the darling of the ‘euro-uber-alles' trade) and it was all starting to look as though we had a big mismatch between action and explanation. When that occurs things get really messy. Not understanding why something unpleasant is happening is the gasoline on the fire of fear.

Friday was interesting. What appeared to be fear emerged properly with even the 'just a healthy correction’ crowd looking a bit like the Monty Python Black Knight, yet the markets bounced into the close. There was no new news. Price is news (PIN).

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Stepping back from all of the micro of the week, we could fit all of the above into the classic layout of the original 8 steps of a February wash out. It starts as a US concern, has accelerated and is now hitting global risk appetite with apparently dissociated assets in far off places being sold.

‘Inflation' may now be sprawled in colour on the billboard outside the cinema but inside the show is a classic black and white blow out of consensus trades.

The big what 'happens next? ' I'll ponder over in the next post "What happens next? The great global risk repricing." (Now posted here) but I am far from sure that this is over.

But before I go I’m going to be a bit unkind. But it does need to be said. There a lot of people out there who pride themselves on analysing the minutia of finance, looking for clues as to the next nuance of price moves or the odd basis point arb between trades, or clever sector switches, or curve trades. So it is with an evil gloat I see their detailed embroidery get burnt up in the house fire caused by the gallon of gasoline left in the oven that they failed to spot. At the end of the financial day, you are judged on PnL not PhD


Friday, 22 September 2017

Cash is oversold.

If I was selling a trade idea I would be now composing lots of arguments as to why I am getting really nervous about the markets. But I can’t. Call it a trader's instinct or some unexplainable subconscious human pattern recognition, but I am nervous about the markets. To the point that I have started shutting down long-term positions, even my long-term favourites in commodities, emerging markets, and dividend yields.

The clues are like flitting shadows in my periphery vision but ones I can more clearly identify are -

Metals - A nicely bubbling speculative play on growth rarely sees metals sell off and copper and iron are really off.

North Korea - news stories work like investments and have their own cycle of overland under response. More attention is paid to the speed of change than the underlying slow grind. The easiest things to miss are the quiet unobtrusive trends which don’t have a 'Wow - look at that 10% move’ bringing them to general attention. North Korea is a slow-burning fuse on a potential powder keg.

Fed - A few years back I stopped getting excited about Fed meetings as the hot air to true impact ratio has always been too high. This latest one has left the market a bit confused apparently with excuses being attached to ‘unexpected’ market responses. I’d rather read this as a confused market that is grasping at straws. An indication that any new feature or price drive can easily pick up a new herding.

EU - Growth is wallpapering over the cracks in the EU allowing Juncker to assume the role of Caesar with his federalist plans. The European markets are buoyant, the spreads of periphery against core are getting to the point where they appear to be discounting convergence with no chance of independent default. All are discounted as well with EU, so how much more good news can there be?

One of the greatest trends of the past years has been the issuance of debt rather than the issuance of equity. To the point of frustration as nearly all the fruity projects I’d like to invest in are, quite rightly, held in-house. Why issue stock when you can issue debt to a closed group without all the aggravation of coping with a slew of irritating nonparticipating shareholders. The only time you ‘ll get a slice of the pie is once the idea has been maxed out for the early investors.

But if there is going to be an end to the underwriting of debt by central banks then the risks change. I think we are at the start of the great reversal here all that debt that has been issued to buy back stock gets reversed.

Do I want to hold bonds? No. Do I want to hold equities? No. Do I want to hold a guaranteed return paying above inflation? Yes. But the number of government renewable energy schemes that guarantee that is reducing fast and it’s unfortunate that the surest way to receive an inflation-busting sure fire yield is through an arbitrage of misplaced government subsidies.

So what do I hold? There is one chart that I have never seen but would love someone to produce. It is effectively the inverse of an index of every investment there is. It would be the price of fiat cash. Not having seen such a chart, but imagining it and imagining the work technical analysts could have with it, I would not be surprised for them all to be saying that cash is in dangerously oversold territory. With the accompanying ‘we haven’t seen cash this cheap since xxxx” commentaries.

Who does hold fiat cash these days? Everything is invested in a scheme. Or a new version of cash which isn’t cash. The fallout from the 2008 meltdown was a complete distrust of banks which has spawned the growth of pseudo banks that have much higher risk than traditional banks but are perceived not to as they are not banks. Cash is not king at the moment, apart from places that have been devastated by natural disasters leaving them without the power needed to make electronic payments. The dependency of the monetary system on power infrastructure is often overlooked.

But I am going into cash. It is very oversold. There are probably clever ways I can play hedges but the best hedge is to exit your position. Or buy one in a garden center.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Fund report - Polemic Casino Fund

There was a Bloomberg article out 'separating the dos from the don'ts in investing'  that wouldn't have caught my attention other than  Rob Majteles‏ (@treehcapital) tweeted it with the most observational of comments -

"Only real way? Make money, then look back and pretend you actually know why..."

Which is very apt as investment performance is as important an ingredient in feeding fund narratives as any economic data is for market narratives. Losses are excused away to the point of failure. Hugh Hendry really should have read this wonderful piece by Ben Hunt on why we have to adapt our beliefs or die. Profits are always held up as proof of genius. "My Profit, our loss", as @Gerald_Ashley pointed out to me so many years ago I have stolen it as my own.

But the idea that a random walk or luck can be repackaged as proof of future returns had me wondering how a blatant case of luck could be presented in the style of a fund performance report. So here goes.
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The  Polemic Casino Fund Manager’s report for the half year ended September 2017

Dear Investor

During the six months to 30 September 2017, the Polemic Casino Fund share class rose by 18.9%. This was more than the 11.0% gain posted by the FTSE All-Share index, and placed the fund in the upper quartile of our 'IA Funds we chose to benchmark against’ peer group. The fund notably outperformed every other fund in the IA Funds 'Not as good as us’ group.

It was an eventful six months in the casino market with seismic events at the blackjack and baccarat tables dominating the news, leading to a significant sector rotation into craps. Roulette and slot machines (particularly our hold of the 3 bars) were the best-performing sectors. More defensive areas of the market, for example mechanical horses and online poker posted negative returns. This market rotation was helpful for relative fund performance as our aggressive stance led us to avoid exposure to bar bills, hostess tips and restaurant meals thus contributing to the fund outperforming benchmark.

Roulette was the largest contributor to our total return over the period. Yields in our algorithmic ‘it’s going to be red’ model saw exceptional yields of 100% in the first roll and though yields saw declines thereafter we saw opportunities for diversification and allocations into our macro driven ’no, this one will be black’ program quickly saw the performance recover. We were unfortunate to have been subject to a 3 standard deviation event occurring at 11.30pm with the ball landing on green zero. This was due to Brexit. Though we continue to see a reoccurrence as a low-risk event, we are looking for the UK government to make their position on Europe clear so that market participants can plan for future spins.

Rapidly rising piles of cash on the lips of the penny falls machines boosted sentiment towards the sector. Competition entered the market with the Close brothers competing at slot 3, however, our selective nudging of the machine made good contributions to performance. Finally, baccarat, new to the portfolio, saw net positive returns after a game-changing acquisition of a seat next to old Mrs. Spriggington-Dawkins. While the scale and scope of the acquisition entail significant execution risk, we believe the risk/reward ratio is favourable as her small dog has run off with her glasses after she dropped them on the floor.

On the negative side, several defensive holdings on the blackjack table posted small losses as investors rotated from one table to another averaging out returns that were insufficient to pay for broker fees, a sensitive area of the market. Midway through the period, the struggling 'hold on fifteens' took their toll on the group and returns fell back. We used this short-term setback to increase our exposure to splitting 9s and saw returns improve.

We started one new holding during the period. Structured as a REIT, we have taken a long-term exposure in the real estate at the bar where staff return glasses. This environmentally recognised fund focuses on the recycling of half-finished drinks into new glasses, returning them to the market under a generic branding. The highly experienced management team has developed an excellent track record as shrewd acquisitors of high-yielding single malts. At current levels, we believe the fund to represent good value and offer a high and secure dividend yield.

Looking ahead, online gaming has significantly expanded capturing a type of market participant that we do not consider as class clients. We have swaggered into the casino on new highs into the next half with confidence that the outperformance of early 2017 is a testament to the superiority of our research, analytics and forecasting of our markets.

There has been a spate of blacks in the far corner tables, leading many investors to enter the new year with optimism. We do not share this enthusiasm. Our long-term concerns, centered on unfavourable demographic trends and high debt levels, jar uncomfortably with some broad market valuation metrics that are flashing red on our screens. So we will stick to red.

As a result, we remain relatively aggressive with our capital capture model picking up dropped chips. We are able to fully participate in what we see as the first stages of an increasingly momentum-driven, highly valued, ICO issuance program, launching our own in February. With a rotation from the tables into crypto issuance, we anticipate limitless upside whilst the stock of morons remains high.

Thank you for your continued support.

Polemic Paine

Regulatory note - MiFID II directive

We are pleased to advise investors that under MiFID II regulations, research costs will be born by the firm excepting one-off payments to Jim, the croupier. His research into when he will issue bent dice has been invaluable to the fund and is quantifiably responsible for 23% of performance in the crap market.