Sunday, May 17, 2020

And I'll be takin' care of business (every day)...

Bachman Turner Overdrive (what a band name!), Takin' Care of Business
Markets and Economy:
There has been almost no reaction overseas to more Fed Chairman Powell's appearance on 60 Minutes (side note: I grew up on 60 Minutes and to watch that show turn into a PR machine is just sad.  There is a need for a modern version of 60 Minutes where smart reporters can ask difficult questions).  Interestingly, in the Powell interview he said that he felt unemployment could peak over 30%, but magically, that was edited out of the interview #SMH.

The US markets are currently up and the witching hour - midnight to 3am when most gains are made - might prove especially volatile tonight (since I wrote this markets have continued to power higher - stocks only move when you're asleep).  

*** Update #2: There were 2 large futures trades at 3am and 4:45am which fueled a run in the pre-market.  Then, one of the countless companies working on a COVID vaccine released preliminary phase 1 data of 8 patients and said they appeared to be creating antibodies (despite the fact that we don't know if antibodies do any good).  That's all it took - markets soared in the pre-market and are now at a key technical point. If they stay up here, they may retest the highs.  Good thing everyone is laid off and can just day trade, it's so much easier than working.

There certainly is a good vibe in the stock market right now.  I suspect the "re-opening" of America has something to do with it as traders were able to get a haircut and go to Costco for flank steak again.  However, I find that reaction odd because no one expected the lock downs to go on indefinitely, but I think the bigger question is what does reopening look like.  Businesses will certainly tout the big bounce from opening and you will see lots of headlines like "Starbucks sales jumped 500% last week" or something.  The reality is if you had a store selling $100 of goods/day, that fell to $5/day during the lock down, it might bounce back to $25 and yeah, that is up 500%, but you're still down $75/day.  

My point is that there remains a wide disconnect between what Wall Street and Washington believes and what is happening in the real world.  Real businesses are planning for a recession far worse than 2008.  When I talk to people in the service/manufacturing section of the economy (ie, not Wall Street), they see bankruptcies, massive waves of unemployment, second and third derivative impacts that no one has factored in to any forecasts.  This makes me think that we are not at the beginning of the end, but rather at the END OF THE BEGINNING of the COVID Economic Crisis.  

Other stats:
The St. Louis Fed Q2 GDP forecast is now at -48%.  That's not missing a decimal point.... -48%!
Quote of the Day:
Reality check:
By the time this is all over the poor will be poorer, the middle class smaller, the country horrifically in debt, unemployment much higher than before and the top 1% will be largely fine.

Do not underestimate the long term impacts of this ever increasing divide.
I'm going to summarize a thread from @jeremykonyndyk which really makes it easier to understand why we've taken the precautions we have and where we are falling short....

1) Imagine it is summer swim season and some child has an "accident" in your local community pool.  What happens next?  The lifeguards clear the pool, the low man on the totem pole has to remove the offending matter, they shock the pool and everyone waits 30 minutes to return to the water.

2) However, what if the lifeguards clear the pool, but don't remove the offending fecal matter? No one can return to the water, right? Whose fault is it that you can't return to the water? 

3) What if the lifeguards told you "Look, just get back in the pool.  Be a warrior."?

4) Right now, the US is a giant pool with an accident floating around.  Leadership is telling you to get back in the pool rather than focusing on fixing the issue.  They are on TV telling you every day, that the problem is that all of these soft people just won't jump in a bacteria filled pool.

5) The shift in narrative is to focus on those that don't want to swim with fecal matter instead of focusing on the people who didn't get rid of the fecal matter.

6) Everyone wants to get back in the pool (re-open the country) but we'd just like to make sure it's free of fecal matter first, okay?

Sorry, I promise that will be the last discussion of fecal matter on this blog :)

The new death rate line may tilt upward this week and will bear watching.

Daily Dose of Humor:

via @jillboard
My ears are currently carrying sunglasses, headphones, and a face mask. 

Ears are a purse.

via @aotakeo
our toddler called my wife “chunky” and none of us will survive this

via @RiotGrlErin
I wonder what kind of stuff the person who figured out you can make cake in a mug in the microwave was going through.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Just the stats, ma'am

Since it's been a few days I'm just going to share a bunch of quotes and data that I've read recently. 
It's been a busy period in the markets, trading right back up to the 61.8% retracement line (don't worry, this stuff is voodoo nonsense but it drives the majority of program trading so we have to be aware of it).  When the S&P 500 soared for a week it hit 2940-2945 and stalled. This afternoon two stories hit the market, the Senate proposing new sanctions on China (ostensibly for human rights violations, but we know they are doing it to appear anti-China in re-election campaigns) and news that Los Angeles County does not expect to lift their shelter in place for 3 months. The rapid rise of the market had shaken out shorts and there were no natural buyers as stocks fell the next few days could get interesting. 
COVID Update:
* “We’re not reopening based on science,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the C.D.C. in the Obama administration. “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”

Since a lot of people have asked my opinion, I have an evolving position.  I believe we should open sections of the economy that can be operated safely.  The US should send 20 masks to every address in the US Post Office Database and social distancing will be the rule for at least the next year. Large voluntary gatherings (think sports, concerts, festivals, weddings) are off the table for 2020.  Close-quartered activities like some manufacturing will have to be limited.  Restaurants, bars, retail will be scaled way back.  I understand the individual desire to risk your own life but this virus isn't likely to hurt you (if you're under 60 in decent health) it is the other Americans that you may kill through your actions.  In that way, COVID should be treated like driving under the influence.  Hey, you might get home okay after 2 beers or you might plow into a grandma at an intersection.  You might catch COVID and be fine, but you might kill my daughter's grandmother because you needed your Sonic Milkshake.

While we are on the subject of infection rates it is important to note that as the country starts to open up cases in the US (ex, NY and NJ) are actually increasing not decreasing.  My fear is that we will have a false open in May/June and as deaths spike, we have shutdown AGAIN in July.  Psychologically, that would be very hard for the country.

Read this full report - this is some of the best analysis I've read on COVID19.

"Just to see how simple infection-chains can be, this is a real story from Chicago. The name is fake. Bob was infected but didn't know. Bob shared a takeout meal, served from common serving dishes, with 2 family members. The dinner lasted 3 hours. The next day, Bob attended a funeral, hugging family members and others in attendance to express condolences. Within 4 days, both family members who shared the meal are sick. A third family member, who hugged Bob at the funeral became sick. But Bob wasn't done. Bob attended a birthday party with 9 other people. They hugged and shared food at the 3 hour party. Seven of those people became ill. Over the next few days Bob became sick, he was hospitalized, ventilated, and died.

But Bob's legacy lived on. Three of the people Bob infected at the birthday went to church, where they sang, passed the tithing dish etc. Members of that church became sick. In all, Bob was directly responsible for infecting 16 people between the ages of 5 and 86. Three of those 16 died. 

The spread of the virus within the household and back out into the community through funerals, birthdays, and church gatherings is believed to be responsible for the broader transmission of COVID-19 in Chicago."

* Some of these stats are a little stale now after today's dip, but ""While the S&P 500 index trades 13% below its Feb 19 all-time high, the median stocks trades at a more substantial 23% below its high. 

FaceBook (+3%), Apple (+6%), Amazon (+29%), Microsoft (+17%), and Google (+3%) have each posted positive returns while the index has returned -9%."  Everyone loves to call these the Tech giants, but think about what they are - 

Facebook is advertising
Apple sells very expensive tech toys
Amazon ships Walmart quality products (and runs the internet via AWS)
Microsoft is a tech company (and runs the rest of the internet through Azure)
Google sells ads that fund its tech adventures

* US Public Pensions went all in on stocks in November 2019 hitting their highest allocations since the Great Financial Crisis.  Pensions then suffered a 13% decline in Q1 as stocks fell.  Imagine.

* There is currently 165 million barrels of oil floating in oil tankers around the world (that's a lot).

* via @convertbond and Guggenheim - I had this conversation with a friend today.  Remember when Ross Perot got Bill Clinton elected by accurately detailing our insane national debt levels in 1992?  Do you know what the total national debt was then?  $4.5 trillion.  

We are going to issue more debt in 2020 than we accumulated from 1776 to 1992 or 216 years.  These numbers might have to be updated to look even worse because the House is talking about another $3 TRILLION stimulus package and the April revenues vs. spending numbers were staggering (basically the Federal government took in $240 billion and spend $980 billion)

US Treasury Debt Issuance 

2021: $4.10T
2020: $5.20T
2019: $1.10T
2018: $1.20T
2017: $0.60T
2016: $0.60T
2015: $0.65T
2014: $0.70T
2013: $0.80T
2012: $1.10T
2011: $1.1T
2010: $1.6T
2009: $1.5T

Net Marketable Treasury Issuance, Guggenheim

* People wonder why I never get any sleep - this chart shows the percentage of gains in the stock market that happen during regular hours (9:30-4pm EST) and overnight in futures trading (generally like 12am to 6am EST).

I pays to be a trader based in Eastern Europe :)


 via @not_jim_cramer

Daily Dose of Humor:

via @sixfootcandy
Kid: I want a piƱata for my birthday.

Me: *handing him a stick* I’m pretty sure your dad has some candy in his pockets.

via @cheesedaydreams
The first 37 years of dieting are definitely the hardest.

via @bartandsoul
A book club, only we eat pizza and do shots until we pass out


Thursday, May 07, 2020

Another 7 months like this....

and the entire country can be unemployed by Christmas, but hey, at least stocks will be at record levels....
By now you've probably heard the news that weekly jobless claims came in at 3.2 million.  Again, just 5 times higher than the previous ALL-TIME high and bringing the COVID 7 week total to 33.5 million.  So, that only leaves about 120 million Americans working, the rest of us are day trading apparently.

However, as has been the game for the past month, the overnight trading spiked stocks - I'm not a conspiracy theorist but it's pretty obvious when the same buyer comes into the market at 12:55am and 1:55am every single night - that triggers program trades to buy more (in their most simplistic form when people are sleeping there are programs designed to buy if stocks are up x%) which triggers more buying etc.  Everyone on CNBC bemoans the program trading on the way down, but seems to forget the way it's artificially supporting stocks here. 

**** Not advice ****
The markets are caught in a no no man's land right now.  The bears want to short a little higher (like 2% higher) and the bulls want to buy about 10-20% lower.  So, it doesn't take much to swing markets around. 

I'll follow-up with a more thorough post tonight. 


Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Why can't we not be sober.....

I just want to start this over.

Tool - Sober
Confusing double negative aside, the tone of this song strikes me as appropriate.  By the end of this decade the US might be running a debt of $30 trillion which makes one wonder - if debt doesn't matter, why did we ever pay taxes? Why not just run $5 trillion deficits forever? Oh, because eventually your currency becomes worthless and you end up like Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

I just want to go back to 2000 and start this over.  Fewer interventions after the dotcom bubble, fewer interventions after the Great Recession, smaller deficits during the "recovery years" of 2012-2017 and of course, fewer bailouts during the COVID19 crisis.
Wealth inequality is very real and becoming worse in the United States. After rising throughout the 90's during the bull market, the share of wealth held by the richest 1% of Americans (if you have to ask you aren't in this category) plateaued around 27-28% in 1998 and stayed fairly flat through the recovery 2012-13 (rising to around 29% at the end of the first Obama term). 

This was when the economy should have hit a natural air pocket (in 2013 and 2015 in my opinion) but the Federal Reserve kept extraordinary measures in place to support the markets.  The result was rising in equality from 2012 to 2016 which led to the rise of candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  This inequality has only worsened in the past 3 years and will likely be at an all-time peak by the time of the November elections. :/
via @hermmohawk

The rising wealth of the 1% has come at the expense of the middle class.
via @rudyhavenstein

Flying in the era of COVID19: This is one airline's approach to flying safely....well as safe as it can be putting humans in a metal tube and hurling them through the sky at 550mph.
You might ask "How can airlines that need all of our bailout money, operate at 50% of capacity?".  My guess will be price hikes - 100%-200% right off the bat.  Airlines will hope business customers will keep them afloat, but what business is going to voluntarily overpay for travel expenses right now?  A few will, but I think this is a dangerous game for the airlines to play.  After an initial bounce from the open, they might see the impact that Zoom (or whatever video conference software becomes the de facto market leader) has had on marginal travel.

Since Day 1 when discussing COVID19, I've said that the US would have a tough time with the virus because we struggle with individual rights vs. doing something for the good of society. The US represents 4% of the world's population but 33% of confirmed and REPORTED cases.  Obviously, not all testing and reporting is the same but that is a failure of epic proportions.

The markets shrugged off a 4% decline overseas on Monday and soared back toward that magic 2900 number again on the S&P 500.  This isn't advice but the markets feel very directionless here.  Most sharp investors want to short between 2925 and 3000 or buy between 2600 and 2700.  Sitting in the middle of that range means that the market is prone to unexplained swings.

I know valuations no longer matter because that's not how we measure stocks but consider the fact that the median estimate for 2020 earnings is now 110, stocks are trading at 26 times earnings which is more expensive than their 2020 peak.  If you use Goldman's WORST CASE scenario of $70 stocks are trading 41 times earnings.  Remember, stocks are traditionally considered cheap around 10 times earnings.  Hmmm, 10 x $70 is a lot less than 2870 (like 75% less).... something to ponder.
Quote of the Day:
"My conservative friends don’t think states and cities deserve help. My progressive friends think certain businesses don’t deserve help. And my libertarian friends don’t want anyone to get help. These are the seeds of long, slow, painful recoveries."
Daily Dose of Humor:

via @mom_tho
Marriage is having separate tubes of toothpaste because your spouse squeezes it wrong

via @darlainky
I quit watching How to Get Away With Murder a few seasons back because I didn’t feel like I was learning anything.

via @portmanteauface
How quintessentially American is it that a nation of adults who struggle with tenth grade math spontaneously and collectively learned the ancient art of breadmaking just to avoid the risk of going one single day without eating carbs


Sunday, May 03, 2020

Give Me Liberty or Death....

Aww, *$@& it, just give me death (and murder hornets).

Motionless in White - Brand New Numb
This seems to sum up the consensus after 6 weeks of lock down for 40% of Americans.  We have smart people trying to save American lives while protecting as many jobs as possible but Karen and Kevin are asking to speak to the manager because the can't go shopping at the mall.

1) COVID19 - Well, it's a good thing COVID19 is behind us and we can open up... wait, what's that? We had a new peak in deaths on FRIDAY?!?!


Yes, we know the data is complicated to analyze but as I've pointed out before, the risk is not that we are attributing too many deaths to COVID19 but rather too few. 

2) Flight polls - I saw an informal, unscientific poll circulate on the internet this weekend but it went around to a lot of people in my industry (15,000 responses).  The question was - when we open up when will you fly again? The top choice with 30% of responses was "Over 1 year".  Followed by 6-12 months at 27% and immediately at 25%.  It's hard to predict how people will respond to the opening but I do feel that the way other countries have re-opened reflects this reality.  Those expecting a sharp economic recovery are going to be stunned by how long it takes some industries to recover.

via @etmross -  Los Angeles Airport at 2pm Sunday 5/3

3) Random scary fact of the day - Chicago has had more murders in 2020 through May 3 than they had for all of 2019.  Is social unrest a cause? Drug supply chain disruptions?

4) Random MUCH SCARIER quote of the day - via @therealfly - World Food Program executive director David Beasley says that an emerging “hunger pandemic” could result in 300,000 deaths per day globally. The aid organisation estimates that the number of people suffering acute hunger could increase from 135m to 265m by year end.  

This is not like the news you'll start seeing of poultry, beef, pork, egg shortages in US grocery stores.  That story is one that will get clicks - Is your Memorial Day bbq cooked by COVID? - but that's a temporary disruption of meat processing plants.  In Africa and Asia the disruption of the food supply chain is very real and many people live on the edge of acute hunger.  This will be something to monitor closely.

5) China playing 4D Chess - the US outsources all manufacturing to China.  We then need masks to protect our healthcare workers and citizens.  Buy masks from China and find out....via @deltaone



6) Quote of the Day - “In a solvency crisis, companies can’t survive no matter how much they can borrow: they need more revenue. The Fed can’t solve that.” Greg Ip, @WSJ

7) Remember scale matters when you hear your government toss around numbers in millions, billions and trillions.....

A million seconds - 11.6 days
A billion seconds - 31.7 years (I was in high school)
A trillion seconds - 31,700 years ago.  The last ice age was just starting.

The point is that $4 trillion dollars is a lot of money.
Markets - This going to be a very interesting week for the markets.  Without getting too far in the weeds, the big bounce from March 23rd ran straight into technical resistance on Wednesday of last week (the day I introduced my family to all of the really bad words that I learned while working on a Wall Street trading desk). Breaking through that resistance was the key to further gains, but the market tagged and rejected that line.  May and June will continue to be a battle for headlines in the markets - record interventions vs. a record economic collapse. 

At some point this will resolve itself over the coming two months and I suspect by July 4th we will have a clear understanding which direction we are heading in long-term.
Daily Dose of Humor:

via @mastrap84
Kids don't care what their parents do or have done in life. I could cure cancer and my kids would be like LET ME TALK TO YOU ABOUT MINECRAFT, PEASANT

via @comicshey
netflix: are you still there?
me: i'm literally not allowed to leave

via @aikiwomannc
Me: I'll take "WTF now?" For $1000
Alex Trebek: The answer is "murder hornets"
Me: What is Dear God it's only May 3rd and we still have hurricane season and the election from hell in November -- where is that damn planet ending meteor already?
Alex Trebek: Correct.