Tagged: Quantitative Easing

Monoliths and Microseconds

“People are getting screwed because they can’t imagine a microsecond.”

Well, how about $1 trillion? Can we imagine that?

If you want context for the quote, read Michael Lewis’s book, Flash Boys (No. 1 now in NY Times nonfiction). Equally relevant and lost in the shadows of microseconds is the magnitude of the monolithic.

There’s a company you’d know that in the past 20 trading days has had intraday volatility of 108%. That is, summing daily spreads between high and low prices – somebody paid both – equals 8% more than a share costs. The entire value of the company in effect turned over the past month, plus an 8% commission. (Do you know your intraday volatility?)

Divided by 20, that 5.4% daily. Compare to overnight borrowing rates near 0.15% for banks, and 30-year mortgages at 4.4%. Yet beneath its skin, behavioral changes for this stock are miniscule. The average recent daily fluctuation in bottom-up investment – the money you talk to – is less than 2.3%.

There was one monolithic change. On March 24, demand from indexes/ETFs dropped 15%. Just once. Since that day, gradual price-erosion tallies eerily to a 15% decline. A one-day shift in asset-allocation cost 15% of market cap over the following month.

Yesterday we ran a dozen models for public companies reporting results today, weighing demographics and sentiment to project price-reactions. Outcomes are an amalgam of purposes. Without data, it’s impossible to know that price-moves reflect rational thought. If share of market did not change for investors, they didn’t set price, didn’t alter their views.

The Fed in 2013 bought $1 trillion worth of US Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities, pinning interest rates on ten-year US bonds near 1.7% until word leaked in May that it might stop. Between May-Dec 2013, Treasury yields rose 75% and average 30-year mortgage rates jumped 30%. (more…)

Infinite Money Theorem

“What do you see out there?”

Out here in Crested Butte, CO, where the overnight temperature was 35 degrees, we see vast beauty, perhaps unparalleled on the planet.

As for the other “out there,” it’s the No. 1 question we’ve gotten the past two weeks, even with clients reporting financial results. They’re most concerned with the macro view: What do we think will happen to the stock market if and when the Fed stops buying government-backed securities?

Some observers predict doom. If the Fed quits printing money, the helium goes out of the balloon and down it comes. Others see the opposite. Just yesterday Jim Paulsen at Wells Capital said the Fed’s exit means markets can normalize, shifting from arbitraging data to investing in economic growth. He says stocks will rise.

It’s important to understand what the Federal Reserve is doing. The Fed isn’t printing money per se. It’s in effect engaging in a massive derivatives swap – trading one thing for another, neither of which is a hard asset. The Fed buys about $85 billion of Treasury securities and government-backed mortgage derivatives every month. Since these instruments are backed by US taxpayers and derive from either future tax receipts or underlying mortgages, both are derivatives. (more…)

Tapering Tantrum

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

This witty dictum by Herb Stein, father of Ben Stein (yes, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Wonder Years, Win Ben Stein’s Money and TV in general), is called Stein’s Law. It elucidates why stocks and dollars have had such a cantankerous relationship since 2008.

Last Wednesday, May 22, Ben Bernanke told Congress that the Federal Reserve might consider “tapering” its monetary intervention called quantitative easing (QE) “sometime in the next several meetings.” You’d think someone had yelled fire in a crowded theater. The Nikkei, Japan’s 225-component equity index, plunged 7%, equal to a similar drop for the Dow Jones Industrial Average at current levels. On US markets, stocks reversed large gains and swooned.

Why do stocks sometimes react violently to “monetary policy,” what the heck is “monetary policy,” and why should IROs care?

Let’s take them in reverse order. Investor-relations professionals today must care about monetary policy because it’s the single largest factor – greater than your financial results – determining the value of your shares.

By definition, “monetary policy” is the pursuit of broad economic objectives by regulating the supply of currency and its cost, and generally driven by national central banks like the Federal Reserve in the United States.

Stay with me here. We’ll get soon to why equities can throw tantrums. (more…)

Take the Pulse of Your Stock

Coming to NIRI National 2011 next week? Please visit us at Booth 304! We have no helicopter rides or trips to the Bahamas to give, but we do have a really cool microfiber for keeping those ubiquitous touchscreen pads and smartphones sharp.

June launched by kicking markets right in the rump. We blamed economic data. It’s true but not that simple. Behind the data at the behavioral level, institutions decided against equities roughly May 13. We don’t make this up, we just observe it in the way trades execute. When methodologies, purposes or time horizons change, it manifests in trade executions.

Money didn’t hedge with options expirations May 18-20 either. If you decide not to insure your house against loss, what might that mean? That you expect to sell it shortly, that risk is nonexistent, or that insurance is too darned expensive. As an analogy, two of those three are negatives and the middle one doesn’t exist on Wall Street.

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Karen and I are getting in boat shape ahead of a trip to Antigua (Motto: “Don’t ever say the name ‘Allen Stanford’ around here”). But we’ve encountered obstacles to the cycling part of the regimen: Wind and fire. One more, such as earth, and we’ve have a good name for a rock band. It’s been bone-dry and breezy on the Front Range, and already several range fires have burned black swaths.

Speaking of fires, we’re marching through them with the Issuer Data Initiative. The Number One Need is more names behind it. If you haven’t committed support for better trading data, do so today. Your peers will thank you someday, and you can remind them then that they owe you.

Before we get to what happened Mar 16-21 in trading markets, a word on BATS Exchange. The Kansas City operator of the third-largest American trading venue has made no secret of its interest in listing companies for public trading. BATS made it official today, announcing plans to offer IPOs another path to global liquidity.

Provided BATS offers competitive listing prices and good data, it can compete. We hope exchange executives will consider the key data points in the Issuer Data Initiative. BATS has a reputation for data excellence already, providing a great deal of free data to its trading clients.

We see too that BATS filed a proposed rule change with the SEC last month that will require customers to mark trades as principal (for their own accounts), agency (on behalf of others) or riskless principal (buying from or selling to a customer). See, issuers? Exchanges file rules to change how things are done. Issuers are participants in markets too. If they want something changed, they too can ask.

What drove trading markets roughly March 16-21 also speaks to the importance of good data. Somebody always must execute the trade and report it. That’s the way we all know the volume for any stock. On March 16, the G-7 countries announced a concerted effort to devalue the Japanese yen by flooding markets with currency. March 16-18 also included the monthly options-expirations cycle, and S&P quarterly index rebalances.

During the same period, we observed uniformity in trading activity for a set of “primary dealers” that work with central banks in the United States, Europe and Japan. Across the market-cap and sector spectrum, the same behavior occurred for this set of primary dealers.

We surmise that central banks armed these large brokerages with cash, which is how central banks engage in “quantitative easing.” The brokerages, also all commercial banks today, deployed it by buying securities from selling institutions. It had the desired effect, stabilizing equity markets and reducing upward pressure on the yen.

We’ve seen that many stocks have returned to their pre-March-10 “rational price” levels. But the behaviors producing those prices aren’t rational. If these were riskless principal transactions, do governments now own a bunch of equities with taxpayer dollars? Or were these all principal trades and so the brokers now have high levels of inventory?

Let’s suppose it’s the latter. Fine, so long as markets rise. Brokers can sell inventory as more buyers return to equities. It’s bad, however, if, say, Portugal defaults, causing the Euro to weaken and the dollar to rise. US equities would slide, and brokers would dump inventory to protect themselves as markets fell.

So everybody get out there and buy something made in Portugal.