Tagged: credit

Hysteresis

You never know where you’ll hear a new vocabulary word. 

It’s not the word that matters but what it connotes.  And the context in which one hears it.  In this case, it was hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones on CNBC Squawk Box yesterday, talking about stocks and bonds.

He said you don’t want to own them. He said, paraphrasing, there’s hysteresis at work in markets. 

Now, I think I’ve got a decent vocabulary. I read Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” in college and recorded roughly 32% of its entire contents as words I didn’t know.  Like palimpsest.

And I didn’t know hysteresis. It’s the delayed effect of causes. The relationship between an outcome and the history preceding it.

Illustration 27944908 © Mopic | Dreamstime.com

I guess it’s good news he didn’t say “there are no words to describe how bad things are in markets.” Warren Buffett, speaking this past weekend to the Berkshire masses gathered in Omaha, called financial markets “a gambling parlor.”

By the way, did you know Berkshire Hathaway holds no earnings call?  They just put out a Saturday press release. Hm, one wonders if we’re all confusing busy with productive.

Anyway, Mr. Buffett said he finds the amount of speculative betting “obscene.”

I’m reminded of a vignette from David Mamet’s book, Recessional. He’s in New York and observing street experts working suckers with Three Card Monte.

You know it? Somebody turns three cards up and says follow the queen, or whatever.  Then he turns them over and shuffles them.

Mamet says Three Card Monte is not a game of chance.  Not a game of skill.  It’s not a game.

And that’s the stock market. It is not a game for those setting most prices. I told traders using our quant decision-support platform that all the middlemen, the toll-takers like money managers, ETF sponsors, market-makers, brokers, exchanges, make money while investors and traders struggle.  Look at Citadel’s great April.

For intermediaries, it’s a job, and the rules and processes are well-known to them. The purpose of the stock market is to facilitate a continuous auction of everything in tiny bits. So the SEC has decreed.

That is, there must always be prices for all stocks, even if the prices are wholly disconnected from supply/demand reality.

Public companies, consider the chasm between Mr. Buffett’s statement and what you want.  You’re after shareholder value, not stimulating the “gambling parlor.”

What are you going to do to sort the one from the other? You can’t do it with “settlement data.”

Bill Gurley, guru of venture capital in Silicon Valley at Benchmark Capital tweeted that earnings multiples have always been a “hack proxy.” He said there’s a lot of what he called “unlearning” coming to the multitude too young to know a bear market.

I know looking at the numbers coming out of Robinhood and other parts of the market that retail traders have taken a drubbing by not understanding what’s happening.

The stock market functions exactly as its rules specify. It’s the system. The word “hysteresis” says the system reflects the state of its history.

And the history of the market, as with money, credit, labor, is about increasingly pervasive government control. Which means market forces lose control.

Bonds and equities are for the first time in decades falling at the same time.  The dollar is at levels one finds during crises when money rushes to it for capital-preservation. The economy doddered into a GDP decline last quarter.

We may be in a financial crisis already. We don’t see it because the credit-overextension causing it isn’t emanating from some part of the economy but from the government itself.

What about jobs, openings, strong consumer credit and balance sheets? They’re part of hysteresis, the milieu resulting from what came before it. They reflect what was stimulated into existence, not what can survive without stimulation.

I’m not saying everything is about to fall apart. The stock market could go on a tear again, although supply/demand trends need big change to make that hold.

Rather, I think the trouble is all the effort to manage outcomes. A handful of members of government, and central bankers and regulators are trying to run everything. The few are not smarter than the many. Hysteresis for any cultural experiment shows it.

Stenosis is a word describing the consequences of narrowing neural passages. Stentorian means loud, thundering.

I think hysteresis in our financial markets is breeding economic stenosis that will lead to stentorian tumult.  We best get prepared (we have the navigational data).

Short-Term Borrowing

Half the volume in the stock market is short – borrowed. Why?

It’s the more remarkable because stocks since late December have delivered an epic momentum rebound. A 15% gain is a good year. Half the sectors in the market were up 15% in just the last 25 trading days.

Yet amid the stampede from the depths of the December correction, short volume, the amount of daily trading on borrowed shares, rose rather than fell, and remains 48%.  That means if daily dollar-volume is $250 billion, $120 billion is borrowed stock.

What difference does it make? We’ve written before that the stock market now has characteristics of a credit market.  That is, if lending is responsible for half the volume, the market depends on short-term loans rather than long-term investment.

And share-borrowing, credit, will give the market a false appearance of liquidity.

Think about the sudden and massive December declines that included the worst-ever points-loss for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  Was that a liquidity problem? Does a V-shaped recovery signal a liquidity problem?

Before the Dodd-Frank financial legislation, large banks might carry a supply of shares to meet the needs of customers, especially stocks covered by equity research.

With rigid value-at-risk regulations now, banks don’t hold inventory.  The supply chain for the stock market has shifted to proprietary fast traders, which don’t carry inventory either. They borrow it.

We define liquidity as the number of shares that can be traded before the price changes.  Prior to electronic markets, trade-sizes were ten times larger than today.  The mean trade-size the last five days was 181 shares, or about $13,500 against an average market price of $74.61.

But a few liquid stocks skew the average.  AAPL’s liquidity is over $23,000, its average trade-size. WMT is the average, about $13,000. GIS is half that, about $6,800.

AAPL is also 57% short – over half its liquidity is borrowed.  And AAPL is used as collateral by 270 Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs). Related?

(Side note: Why would AAPL be used more than other stocks in an index if ETFs are tracking an index? Because ETFs only use a sample, often the biggest stocks that are liquid and easy to borrow.)

These three elements – fast traders, high borrowing levels, ETFs – are intertwined and they create risks of inflation and deflation in stocks that bear no correlation to fundamentals.

The market, as we’ve said before, always reflects its primary purposes. If the parties supplying the market with shares are borrowing them, they have an economic interest that will compete with the objectives of those buying shares as an equity investment.

Second, borrowing is a back-office brokerage function. With massive short-term securities lending, the back office becomes as important as the cash equities desk. And it’s a loan business, a credit market (a point made by the insightful academics comprising the Bogan family).

And ETFs? If you want to know how they work, read our white paper. ETFs are not pooled investments. They are collateralized stock substitutes. Derivatives.

Collateral is something you find in a credit market. ETF collateralization, the wholesale market where ETF shares are created and redeemed, is a staggering $400 billion per month in US equities, says the Investment Company Institute.

It’s cheap and easy for brokers to borrow the shares of a basket of stocks and supply them as collateral to the Blackrocks of the world (does Blackrock then loan them out, perpetuating the cycle?) for the right to create and sell ETF shares (or provide them to a hedge-fund customer wanting to short the whole Technology sector).

And how about the reverse? Brokers can borrow ETF shares and return them to Blackrock to receive collateral – stocks and/or cash that Blackrock puts in the redemption basket to offer in-kind for ETF shares.

These are the mechanics of the stock market.  It works well if there’s little volatility – much like the short-term commercial paper market that froze catastrophically during the financial crisis.

We are not predicting doom. We are highlighting structural risks investors and public companies should understand. The stock market depends for prices and liquidity on short-term borrowing. In periods of volatility, that dependency will amplify moves.

In extreme cases, it’s possible the stock market could seize up not through investor panic but because short-term borrowing may freeze.

How might we see that risk? Behavioral volatility. When the movement of money becomes frantic behind prices and volume where only a few firms like ours can see it, market volatility tends to follow (as Sept 2018 behaviors presaged October declines).

Currently, behavioral volatility is muted ahead of the Fed meeting concluding today, loads of earnings, and jobs data Friday. It can change on a dime.

A Credit Market

In the stock market the beatings have been consistent while we all wait for morale to improve. What’s causing it?

I’m surprised conservatives haven’t blamed midterm elections. Alert reader Pat Davidson in Wisconsin notes CNBC viewers say tariffs, global economic weakness and Fed rate-hikes are behind the stock swoon.

Is it a coincidence that these are what the media talk about most?

I think stocks are down because of market structure. Exchange Traded Funds infect them with characteristics of a credit market.

The big hand pelting backsides of stocks has been uneven. Broad measures have corrected off highs. I tallied the FAANGs (FB, AMZN, AAPL, NFLX, GOOG) and they’re down 20-40% from peaks. Same with small-caps.

We last week launched our Sector Insights reports that compile readings on composite stocks by sector. Surveying them, only one, Communications Services, showed recent Active buying. The rest were uniformly beset by ETFs. As was the broad market. ETFs were favoring Utilities and shedding everything else.

Two sectors had positive Sentiment, Real Estate and Utilities, but both were in retreat. Financials and Industrials were tied for worst Sentiment at 2.2/10.0.

Note that Monday, Real Estate and Utilities were the worst performers, down nearly 4%. Financials and Industrials were best, down less than the rest.

The point is that our measures are quantitative. They are not rational factors like tariffs, global economic weakness, or Fed rate-hikes. Yet they accurately and consistently predict what stocks, sectors and the market will do, short-term.

Therefore, the cause for much of the short-term behavior in stocks cannot be rational.

Sure, we’ve written about our expectation that a strong dollar would be deflationary for commodities and risk assets. Inflation is low interest rates. Excess availability of capital fostered by artificially depressed costs. It’s not rising prices. When excess availability vanishes, prices fall regardless of whether they first rose.

The Federal Reserve has removed nearly $1 trillion from its balance sheet and excess reserves through policies, which translates on a reserve-ratio basis to a reduction in capital of roughly $8-10 trillion. That will deflate prices.

But the problem isn’t deflation. It’s the inflation that preceded it. Fed, are you listening?  How about not creating inflation in response to crises? How about instead letting things that should fail do so by setting rates high and accepting only good collateral? Then human creativity can restore productivity, and economies can soar anew.

A financial instrument that extends reach to an asset class is a form of credit.  Credit creates bubbles that collapse when the extension of credit is curtailed.

Let’s use the Healthcare sector as an example. Year to date, Healthcare before Friday was the top-performing sector (now eclipsed by Utilities, up nearly 8%). From Nov 15-Dec 3, comparative performance for the sector was positive.

Suddenly in December the sector fell apart, with the red tide coming on green and purple bars, signaling ETFs.  It happened before JNJ plunged 14%. The credit bubble burst.

ETFs are a form of credit. Blackrock itself describes ETFs as a tool that equalizes supply with demand. ETFs are collateralized substitutes for buying and selling stocks. They offer artificially low costs. They permit elastic supplies of money to chase finite US shares.

The result on the way up is soaring equities. The consequence on the way down is collapsing stocks.

Here’s an analogy. Suppose you have a line of credit on your house and you buy something with it – say a vacation home.  Your capacity to borrow derives from the rising value of your house, which in turn is driven by demand for homes around you.

What if banks extending credit are out of lending capacity and lift rates?  Suddenly, demand for houses around yours declines. Home prices begin to fall. The value of your house drops.

And the bank that extended credit to you becomes concerned and wants more collateral.

Suppose that’s happening in the wholesale market where ETFs are created and redeemed. It far outstrips any other form of fund-flows — $4 trillion already this year through November (estimated), $400 billion per month.

If the value of the collateral used to create ETF shares – stocks – is of indefinite and unpredictable and falling value, the capacity to extend credit collapses. And prices start falling everywhere.  Those who borrowed must sell assets to cover obligations.

What if that’s the cause, not the economy or tariffs? That should matter to pundits, investors and investor-relations professionals (and CEOs by extension).

We have the data. Use it. We expect markets to jump Dec 19-21 through the final expirations period of 2018. But it’s a credit market subject to credit shocks.