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Is Risk Dead? Or Is This A Bear Market Junk Rally?

In our last post we discussed how we at The Macro Trader think that risk is vastly under-priced.  We looked at several different volatility indexes as well as Bill Luby and VixandMore.com’s JunkDEX.  The JunkDEX shows how well stocks like AIG, FNM, C, CIT, and BAC are doing.  As you can see in our previous post “Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed” the JunkDEX  has had a monster rally.  Usually this would signal at least a short term top as speculative fever burns out.   Obviously the rally was not done and we are up since then.

To more quantitatively show the huge run up in risky assets we went looking for some factor based indexes that would show the performance of “good” and “bad” companies.  In our search we came across some custom stock baskets from Goldman Sachs that use Edward Altman’s famous Z-score to separate stocks into strong and weak balance sheet indexes.

The Altman Z-score uses 5 financial ratios.  Altman took the 5 ratios and using statistical techniques was able to build the Z-score which predicts a companies probability of failure.  The higher the score the safer the business is and the lower the score the more danger there is of insolvency.

As was to be expected the performance between the weak and the strong balance sheet stocks has been drastic over the last 6-months.  As you can see in the chart below the low Z-score basket has vastly outperformed the high Z-score basket.  In fact the weak balance sheet basket has done almost twice as good as the strong balance sheet basket of stocks. (click on chart to enlarge)

Goldman Sachs SP500 Strong and Weak Balance Sheet Baskets 6-Months

goldman-custom-strong-weak-balance-sheet-baskets-6-month

While the result is not too surprising it is an example of bad investor behavior.  Academics as well as practitioners have found time and time again that safe low volatility stocks outperform risky volatile stocks over a full market cycle.  In fact if you look at the chart below you can see how the roles between the strong and the weak balance sheet baskets are totally reversed.  The strong balance sheet stocks are positive for the last five years while the weak balance sheet stocks are still very negative.  Another thing to notice is that the junk stocks went down a lot faster and more consistently then the quality stocks when the market tanked over the last two years. (click on chart to enlarge)

Goldman Sachs SP500 Strong and Weak Balance Sheet Baskets 5-Years

goldman-custom-strong-weak-balance-sheet-baskets-5-year

So what are we to take from all of this?  We think that the market is far too speculative given the current economic backdrop.  Earnings while “better then expected” are at record lows, unemployment is at highs not seen since the depression, we are experiencing deflation for the first time in several decades, the consumer is retrenching and not consuming, and really the only true “green shoot” was that it is not yet the end of the world.

Yes, we can go higher from here but the odds do not favor being heavily long right now.  Our basic forecast at The Macro Trader is that in the not too distant future we will have a correction if not worse and we will be able to buy stocks at a better price then where they are currently sitting.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-In The Macro Trader newsletter we are short some QQQQ-NASDAQ 100 ETF

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: Is Risk Dead? Or Is This A Bear Market Junk Rally?
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/09/11/is-risk-dead-global-macro-trader/

Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed

If over the past six months or so it has seemed as if you were partying like it was 1999 it might be time to reevaluate your stance.  One thing that we have been taking a closer look at lately is the pricing of risk.  Obviously when investors think that risks are low they will demonstrate risk seeking behavior.  We have seen this as the SP500 has climbed 56.6% from the March lows to the highs on 8/28/09.  With a rise like that you would think that 2008 never happened, of course if you believe that then you also believe  in a land of make believe with money trees, the fountain of youth, and SI models for all of us.

Of course some investors counter saying that while things could be better we are seeing the beginning of a recovery.  They then say that while the market will likely climb slower, that it will still climb higher.

While the above scenario is possible, anything is possible.  The more important question is to decide if the rewards outweigh the risk involved in being long equities right now.  Or even if at this point the better risk reward trade is to the downside.

Lets look at a few “risk gauges” or “fear indexes” as the press likes to call volatility indexes.  The first is of course the VIX.  After spiking to all time highs in October and November of 2008 we are already well on our way towards what was considered a “normal” level back in early 2008 before Bear Stearns.  The potential risks were obviously very mispriced at the beginning of 2008, are they mispriced again?  While likely not as off as they were at the beginning of 2008 we still think that there are a lot more real and potential risks then the market is currently pricing in. (Click on chart to enlarge)

SP500 VIX

sp500-vix

What about foreign markets?  How do investors perceive the potential risks abroad?  Well if the VDAX is any gauge then investors see a rosy future in Europe as well.  Again maybe there are no big risks and maybe the EU is rock solid.  Then again maybe not.  With the complete lack of liquidity that businesses have had over the past several months in the EU it is really surprising that the VDAX is back to pre-crisis levels. (Click on chart to enlarge)

German DAX VIX

dax-vix-volatility-index

What about other asset classes?  What are investors saying about potential risks?  Using the MOVE Index which measures the range in which Treasury yields are expected to move over the next 12-months we can see that even here investors are becoming increasingly complacent.  What happened to the runaway inflation that we keep hearing is right around the corner?  Right now the market is saying that we will be in a 130 basis point range for the next 12-months. In The Macro Trader weekly newsletter we are long the TLT 20+ Year Treasury ETF and are expecting a bigger move then is currently implied via the MOVE index. (Click on chart to enlarge)

MOVE Index

move-index-merrill-option-volatility-index-treasuries

Even in the currency markets we are seeing extreme complacency.  Apparently investors the world over are back to selling dollars in exchange for anything.  While the USD has its issues other currencies do to.  Right now the currency markets are not participating in the Keynes beauty pageant where you are trying to pick the girl that you think the judges will think is the beautiful.  No, with the current state of the global economy we are in the least ugly pig contest where we are only trying to find the least ugly.  That being said investors do not appear to see a lot of volatility any time soon. (Click on chart to enlarge)

JPM G-7 VIX

jpmvxyg7-g-7-volatility-index

Even the emerging market currency volatility index is showing complacency. What happened to the banking issues in Eastern Europe? Apparently they vanished, or at least that is what it seems as though the market is telling us.  (Click on chart to enlarge)

JPM Emerging Market FX VIX

jpmvxyem-emerging-market-volatility-index

Even commodities markets are pricing in realtively low risk. While the price history of the Crude Oil and Gold volatility indexes does not go back as far as we would like, you can get a feel for what is happening as both indexes are dropping at a very steady rate.  Do investors really think that volatility will stay that low?  What happened to the oil spike if demand comes back?  And what happens if gold breaks $1000 on fears of hyper inflation?  (Click on charts to enlarge)

Crude Oil VIX

ovx-oil-volatility-index

Gold VIX

gvz-gold-volatility-index

Another excellent tool to evaluate the blind risk taking happening right now in the stock market is the JunkDEX invented by Bill Luby over at VIX and More.  By taking an equal weighting of junk stocks AIG, FNM, C, CIT, and BAC you can see how crazy or composed investors are acting. While we have seen, and actually use, an index of high momentum stocks we had never thought of making an index that tracks junk stocks to gauge investors risk appetite.

As you can see in the chart of the JunkDEX below the junk led the market off the bottom and then lagged until the last month when the index shot up +157.36% in a little over a month.  While it has pulled back over the last two days we are still in awe that investors are dumb enough to buy this junk at these prices. (Click on chart to enlarge)

VIX and More JunkDEX* vs SP500

junkdex-vs-sp500-2009

After looking at all of this we need to ask ourselves if the rewards outweigh the risk to stay long?  Or if we should be flat or short.  In case you have not guessed we currently think that the risk reward is pointing to the downside.

Looking at the QQQQ we have a setup with a solid risk to reward situation. As you can see in the chart below the QQQQ has rallied back to its 50% retracement level, its 200-week moving average, and its downtrend line extending from October 2007.  While it could of course rally higher we like the risk reward enough to have put on a modest short position in our weekly Macro Trader newsletter. (Click on chart to enlarge)

QQQQ-NASDAQ 100 ETF

qqqq-weekly-chart-short-setup

While not quite as nice of a setup as the NASDAQ 100, the SP500 also looks like a solid risk reward trade to the short side.  As you can see in the chart below of the SPY-SP500 ETF it has rallied up to the upper Bollinger Band and has already started to come back in.  We are looking for a move back to at least the $95-96 area. (Click on chart to enlarge)

SPY SP500 ETF

spy-sp500-etf-daily-chart

Obviously anything can happen.  The market could go up every day for the next year, or it could go down every day, but our job as traders is to look for the best risk to reward scenarios that we can find and place trades on probable scenarios and right now we think the most likely scenario is for the market to at least have a pullback if not a correction back towards its 200-day moving average.  Of course if this happens we will see the volatility indexes tick upwards to more realistic levels given our current economic environment.

*Our JunkDEX differs a bit from the one you can see at VIX and More.  After looking into it we found that  we built the index by simulating a $1000 investment in the index and in the SPY and Bill built it by normalizing the index starting value so we have slightly different values.  But don’t worry as the chart looks essentially the same and shows the same investor insanity.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-In The Macro Trader newsletter as well as our accounts we are currently short some QQQQ-NASDAQ 100 ETF and long some TLT 20+ Year Treasury ETF.

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: Volatility Indexes, Risk Appetite, Mispriced Risk, And Where We Think We Are Headed
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/09/02/mispriced-risk-macro-trader

Global Interest Rate Trends

One of our favorite, as well as one of the best indicators that investors can follow is that of interest rates. Since we are global macro traders we follow interest rates across the globe for every country that we can find reliable data. We track short and long rates for 58 different countries for use in many of our models as well as for other indicators like global and regional yield curves.

As you can see in the chart below (click to enlarge) short term rates for the G-10 are low. In fact right now there are five countries that are following a zirp (zero interest rate policy) and consequently their 90 day rates are down under .5%.

G-10 Short Term Interest Rates

g-10-short-term-interest-rates

After dropping significantly throughout the second half of 2008 as Government Bonds went into the stratosphere, rates have since recovered quite a bit during 2009. As we mentioned in a previous post on Treasury Bonds we think that just like rates overshot to the downside they have also overshot to the upside. With recent comments by the Fed that essentially said that they will not be raising rates for the next year…or two, we are a bit taken back by the sell off in Treasuries the past few days. (click to enlarge)

G-10 Long Term Interest Rates

g-10-long-term-interest-rates

The chart below (click to enlarge) shows the average 90-Day and 10-Year government yield for the G-10. In our view this chart shows how the ECB was very slow to lower rates while still preoccupied with the fear of inflation in the fall of 2008. Looking back, and even at the time, this view was ludicrous as everything on the planet was dropping like a rock. In fact the world at one point had lost 42% of its wealth. Obvioulsy rates were eventually lowered but we were, and still are a bit amazed by the lack of understanding shown at the depths of the crisis by Jean Claude Trichet and his crew.

G-10 Short and Long Rates

g-10-short-and-long-term-interest-rates

Here is the chart (click to enlarge) of the G-10 GDP weighted yield curve. As you can see it is extremely steep with the spread at 2.63% after having been negative back in late 2007. Remember back in 2007 when people were saying that this time it was different and that

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the economy was great? Well they were wrong and the yield curve gave a big neon flashing warning signal. We were fortunate in that by heeding its cry we were able to not only preserve capital but actually generate positive returns in 2007 and 2008.

G-10 GDP Weighted Yield Curve

g-10-gdp-weighted-yield-curve

Finally here is the Global GDP Weighted Yield Curve (click to enlarge). Using the country weightings in the MSCI index it is made up of 40 different countries. It has hit new highs this week at 2.20%.

Global GDP Weighted Yield Curve

global-gdp-weighted-yield-curve

Happy Trading,

The Macro Trader

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

TheMacroTrader.com

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: Global Interest Rate Trends
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/07/16/global-interest-rates

Debt Deflation and the Japanese Yen

In our last post we discussed our views on deflation and how it will  be around  longer then most investors think.  Most people are stuck on the idea that hyper inflation is just around the corner and that you must be buying gold, most other commodities, and Asian stocks and at the same time short the US Dollar, Japanese Yen, US Treasuries, and US stocks.  Eventually this may be the right stance, but for now we think, along with the market, that it is the wrong view for the short and medium term.

The main issue stems from the idea that because the government has printed a gazillion dollars that we MUST have hyper inflation tomorrow.  The reality is that until that money is actually in circulation it will not cause inflation.  If you look at the financial situation of most banks it is obvious that not only are they not lending, but they are still so weak that they can’t lend.  Until they have rebuilt their balance sheets they will remain weak and unable to do any large scale lending on anything but bad terms.

Add to this the fact that consumers are saving more and more and you have massive debt deflation.  Consumers that are employed are paying down debt while the unemployed are unable to go into much more debt as credit card companies have curtailed their lending and the housing ATM is shut down.

As the global financial markets continue to deflate we have a few trends that are benefiting from this.  One that we have already covered is that of going long US Treasury bonds.  Another trend that we have shared with our subscribers is that of going long the Japanese Yen.  Long viewed as the funding currency for the carry trade , over the past 18 months the Yen has changed course and is now a safe haven currency.  Every time that investors have fled risky assets such as stocks and corporate debt then have flocked to the Yen.  As investors increasingly realize that the current threat is continued deflation and not inflation we think that they will gravitate out of stocks and into Treasury bonds and the Yen.

In the chart below (click to enlarge) you can see that since 1998 the Yen had been consolidating until breaking out back in March of 2008 as the financial crisis accelerated with the demise of Bear Stearns.  This breakout later pulled back before breaking out again and making a large move lower.

Japanese Yen 15-Year Weekly

yen-long-term-15-year-weekly-chart

As you can see in this chart (click to enlarge) the last two pullbacks have found support at the 50% retracement levels.  While we don’t think that Fibonacci levels have some mystical power, we do use them to find opportunities to buy pullbacks in a trend.

Japanese Yen 3-Year Weekly With Retracements

yen-3-year-daily-with-50-percent-retracements1


Finally as you can see in this daily chart of the last year (click to enlarge) you can see that we finally have broken out of an almost year long consolidation.  While not a perfect triangle it obviously contracted more and more until finally breaking out over the last few days.

Japanese Yen 1-Year Daily Chart

yen-1-year-daily-consolidation

Looking at the 15-year long term chart of the Yen we are expecting a move up to 114 and would not be surprised to see it make new highs at 120 in the coming months (If you are looking at the USD/JPY cross the levels would be 88 and 80).  Although anyone who is a macro trader is no doubt aware of this move we have found that most equity investors skip over currencies and fixed income themes, thinking that they have nothing to do with them.  The reality is that the currency and fixed income markets can give great signals for when risk is high or low and should be followed by all investors.

Happy Trading,

The Macro Trader

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: Debt Deflation and the Japanese Yen
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/07/09/debt-deflation-and-the-japanese-yen/

The Carry Trade and Volatility

In our ETF based newsletter, the carry trade is one of the strategies that we employ. For those unfamiliar with the carry trade, you are essentially trading the interest rate differentials of different countries. You short a low-yielding currency and go long a higher-yielding currency.

You can make money in two ways. You earn the “carry” if the currencies remain very stable, and neither move. You can also make money in this trade by being correct in the direction. For instance if you are short the Japanese Yen and long the Australian dollar, then you can also make money if the Australian dollar goes up, and the Yen goes down.

As an example of how to earn the carry, lets look at the Japanese Yen versus the Australian Dollar. The Yen has been the carry trade vehicle of choice for much of the past decade because Japan has consistently had extremely low interest rates. Australia, on the other hand, has had relatively high rates over the last decade.

To construct the differential for this trade, take one rate and subtract the other rate. In the chart below, we plot the difference between the AUD and the Yen since the beginning of 2007. As you can see, at one point the carry was as high as 7.34, but it has since declined to 2.69. If you had been long the AUD and short the Yen, you would have earned this interest rate differential the whole time.

AUD-JPY Interest Rate Differential

AUD-JPY Interest Rate Differential

Of course as we already mentioned, in order to make money on the carry trade, your long must outperform or stay flat relative to your short position in order to make money since a big directional move against you will wipe away any gains that you would be making solely off the carry.

There have been several academic studies as well as real world trading results that show that volatility is the biggest risk that the carry trade faces. Over the years, most studies were stuck using the SP500 VIX as a proxy for global financial market volatility. While it correlates quite well, there are now some far better options to help track and manage risk in the currency markets. We at The Macro Trader use the JP Morgan G-7 VIX index for our carry trading model as it correlates extremely well to the volatility in the DBV-Currency Harvest Trust ETF.

What we first found in the academic literature, later confirmed by our own testing and used successfully in our trading, was that when volatility in the currency markets is flat or declining, the carry trade works very well. On the other hand, when currency volatility is high, the carry trade typically is a money loser because the directional aspect of the trade overwhelms the carry, giving you a loss.

We look at the JP Morgan G-7 VIX using two different charts. The first one is a reversion to the mean chart where plot the VIX data, the historic mean, then one and two standard deviations above and below the mean. When volatility is high and then falls below one standard deviation, we start looking to enter the carry trade and when it get above the one standard deviation line we would sell if not already stopped out. On the downside, we look to sell when volatility declines too much since it represents excessive complacency and usually is a sign of higher volatility ahead.

JP Morgan G-7 VIX

rtm-jpmvxyg7

The other way that we like to look at the currency VIX is to invert it on a chart alongside the DBV. As you can see in the below chart, not only was equity volatility declining, but DBV managed to base for a few months before climbing higher and then consolidating at its 200-day moving average. Finally today it was able to break out to the upside.

DBV and JPM G-7 VIX

dbv-vxy

Finally we have the DBV itself. As you can see in the chart below, not only was equity volatility declining, but DBV managed to base for a few months before climbing higher and then consolidating at its 200-day moving average. Finally today it broke out to the upside.

DBV-Carry Trade ETF

dbv

Hopefully you see how volatility is bad for a lazy trade like the carry trade where you trying to get paid for sitting. If volatility climbs above 1 standard deviation above its mean we will look to tighten our stops as the odds of a downside move increase significantly.

DBV-G-10 Currency Harvest Fund is an ETF that goes long the three highest yielding currencies of the G-10 and shorts the three lowest yielding currencies on a 2x levered basis. While investors can go into the spot and futures FX markets and put on the same trade the DBV is a very simple way to gain exposure to positive carry in the currency markets.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-We currently hold positions in the DBV-G10 Currency Harvest Fund and FXA-Australian Dollar ETF.

If you’re getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us

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and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: The Carry Trade And Volatility
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/06/01/the-carry-trade-and-volatility/