Friday, May 6, 2016

5/5/16: Macro Hedge Funds: Neither a Hedge, Nor a Fund...

Having written recently about the trials of Hedge Funds sub-sector (see, it's worth posting this neat chart from Investcorp showing 12-mo rolling median return to macro strategy HFs:

Yeah, it is ugly. And it has been ugly since around 2012, and structurally non-pretty since the end of the Global Financial Crisis.

But the really, really ugly thing is that the chart above shows that macro hedge funds are now (over post-GFC period) pro-cyclical (or at least not countercyclical), in other words, they hedge nothing macro on the macro downside risks and do not perform well on macro upside. It is as if someone on purpose decided to create a strategy that underperforms the market on positive trends and fails to hedge the market on downside trend.

Any wonder everyone is running out of the hedgies barn?..

Thursday, May 5, 2016

5/5/16: Eurocoin signals significant euro area growth slowdown in April

Updating time series analysis for Eurocoin, a leading growth indicator for the Euro area economy issued by CEPR and Banca d’Italia.

In April 2016, Eurocoin reading stood at 0.28, down from 0.34 in March 2016 and marking the lowest reading since March 2015. In other words, leading growth indicator for the euro area is now at its lowest reading in 12 months. Given previous 1Q preliminary growth estimate at 0.6% (q/q growth) from the Eurostat, current level of Eurocoin suggest quarterly growth slowdown to around 0.4%. Since April 2013 (when Eurocoin turned positive for the first time in the recovery cycle), the indicator has been averaging 0.319, which implies April reading is substantially lower than average growth activity over the last 36 months.


Charts below highlight impotency of the ECB's traditional policy framework:

5/5/16: THE 2016 Rankings of Irish Universities in one chart

Updated Times Higher Education rankings for top 5 Irish Universities for 2011-2016:

No Irish Uni in top 100 for the 5th year running. Two Irish Unis in top 101-200, for the 5th year running and no new additions to that club.

No comment, but UK folks are concerned about their performance:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

4/5/16: Canaries of Growth are Off to Disneyland of Debt

Kids and kiddies, the train has arrived. Next stop: that Disneyland of Financialized Growth Model where debt is free and debt is never too high…

Courtesy of Fitch:

Source: @soberlook

The above in the week when ECB’s balancehseet reached EUR3 trillion marker and the buying is still going on. And in the month when estimates for Japan’s debt/GDP ratio will hit 249.3% of GDP by year end

Source: IMF

And now we have big investors panicking about debt: So Stanley Druckenmiller, head of Duquesne Capital, thinks that “leverage is far too high, saying that central banks and China have allowed for these excesses to continue and it's setting us up for danger.”

What all of the above really is missing is one simple catalyst to tie it all together. That catalysts is the realisation that not only the Central Banks are to be blamed for ‘allowing the excesses of leverage’ to run amok, but that the entire economic policy space in the advanced economies - from the central banks to fiscal policy to financial regulation - has been one-track pony hell-bent on actively increasing leverage, not just allowing it.

Take Europe. In the EU, predominant source of funding for companies and entrepreneurs is debt - especially banks debt. And predominant source of funding for Government deficits is the banking and investment system. And in the EU everyone pays lip service to the need for less debt-fuelled growth. But, in the end, it is not the words, but the deeds that matter. So take EU’s Capital Markets Union - an idea that is centred on… debt. Here we have it: a policy directive that says ‘capital markets’ in the title and literally predominantly occupies itself with how the system of banks and bond markets can issue more debt and securitise more debt to issue yet more debt.

That Europe and the U.S. are not Japan is a legacy of past policies and institutions and a matter of the proverbial ‘yet’, given the path we are taking today.

So it’s Disneyland of Debt next, folks, where in a classic junkie-style we can get more loans and more assets and more loans backed by assets to buy more assets. Public, private, financial, financialised, instrumented, digitalised, intellectual, physical, dumb, smart, new economy, old economy, new normal, old normal etc etc etc. And in this world, stashing more cash into safes (as Japanese ‘investors’ are doing increasingly) or into banks vaults (as Munich Re and other insurers and pension funds have been doing increasingly) is now the latest form of insurance against the coming debt markets Disneyland-styled ‘investments’.

4/5/16: Talent Is a Problem, But so Is Financial Services Model

When it comes to talent, hedge funds tend to hoover highly skilled and human capital-rich candidates like no other sub-sector. Which means that if we are to gauge the flow of talent into the general workforce, it is at the Wall Street, not the Main Street, where we should be taking measure of the top incoming labour pool. And here, Roger, we have, allegedly, a problem.

Take Steven Cohen, a billionaire investor hedge fund manager of Point72 (USD11 billion AUM). The lad is pretty good thermometer for ‘hotness’ of the talent pool because: (a) he employs a load of talented employees in high career impact jobs; (b) he tends to train in-house staff; (3) he operates in highly competitive industry, where a margin of few bad employees can make a big difference; and (4) courtesy of the U.S. regulators, he ONLY has his own skin in the game.

Cohen was speaking this Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference about how he is "blown away by the lack of talent" of qualified incoming staff, saying that it is ”not easy to find great people. We whittle down the funnel to maybe 2 to 4 percent of the candidates we're interested in… Talent is really thin."

His fund hires only approximately 1/5th of its analysts and fund managers externally, with the balance 4/5ths coming from internal training and promotion channels.

The sentiment Cohen expressed is not new. International Banker recently featured an article by a seasoned Financial Services recruiter, who noted that “…many firms are finding it hard to attract the right candidates—and also failing to comprehend the true cost of finding the “right hire”” (see here:

Some interesting insights into shifting candidates preferences and attitudes and the mismatch these create between the structure and culture of Financial Services employment can be gleaned from this article: In particular, notable shifts in candidates’ culture with gen-Y entering the workforce are clearly putting pressure on Financial Services business model.

2015 study by Deloitte (see here: summed up changes in Generational preferences for jobs in a neat graph:

And the business graduates’ career goals? Why, they are less pinstripes and more hipster:

In simple terms, it is quite unsurprising that Cohen is finding it difficult to attract talent. While supply of graduates might be no smaller in size, it is of different quality in expectations (and thus aptitude). Graduates’ expectations and values have shifted in the direction where majority are simply no longer willing to spend 5 years as junior analysts working 20 hour days 7 days a week in a sector that does pay well, but also faces huge uncertainties in terms of forward career prospects (to see this, read:

Which means, High Finance is in trouble: its business model does not quite allow for accommodating changing demographic trends in career development preferences. Until, that is, the tech bubble blows, leaving scores of talented but heavily hipsterized graduates no other option but to bite the bullet and settle into one of those 5-years long bootcamps.

NB: Incidentally, recently I was a witness to a bizarre conversation between a graduate and a senior professor. A graduate - heading by her own admission into a Government sector job in international policy insisted that the job requires her to be entrepreneurial, 'almost running [her] own business’. The faculty member supported her assertion and assured that she teaches students how to run their own businesses in courses she provides on... international diplomacy and policy. Not surprisingly, neither one of the two ever ran a business.

The hipster haven ideals of ‘we are all so creative, we can run a business from our college dorms’ run deep. And they are not about the blood and sweat of actually running a business, nor the risk of going into the world penniless and earning nothing for years on end while the business is growing. Instead, entrepreneurship for the young is all about perceived fun of doing so.

There will be tears upon collision with reality.

3/5/16: U.S. Recovery: It's Poor, Judging by Historical Comparatives

Recent research note from Deutsche covering the U.S. economy posted an interesting chart on the U.S. growth dynamics since 1980:
The note, of course, makes the point about volatility of the GDP growth in the current recovery not being out of the ordinary. But the average rate of growth in the chart above is.  Which means one little thingy: the average rate of growth is structurally lower in the present episode than in the previous three post-recession recoveries. And that is before we look at the peak-to-trough falls in GDP during the recession which was more dramatic than in any previous recession plotted in the chart. Average rate of growth in the current recovery falls outside the -1STDEV range for two out of three previous recoveries.

So here we have it: recovery is not robust. Not even strong. It is, quite frankly, very poor.

3/5/16: Banks Have Way Bigger Problems Than Low Interest Rates

Almost not a day goes by without someone, somewhere in the media whingeing about the huge toll low interest rates take on banks profitability. This is pure red herring put forward by banks' analysts that have an intrinsic interest in sugar-coating the reality of the banking sector failure to adapt to post-GFC environment.

In its international banking sector review for 2015, McKinsey & Company research (see here: briefly tackled the pesky issue of banking sector profit margins and their sensitivities to current interest rates environments.

Here’s what McKinsey had to say on interest rates ‘normalisation’ and its impact on banks’ margins:

Source: McKinsey & Co

Do note that 2.3 bps Return on Equity uplift in the case of Eurozone banks is in basis points, on top of 2014 ROE for Eurozone banks of 3.2%. Which would push ROE to 5.5% range.

Here are the conclusions: “In our analysis, however, even if rates rise broadly – a big if – banks will not do as well as many expect; margins will not jump back to previous levels. Much of the benefit will get competed away, and risk costs will likely increase, especially in economies where the recovery is still fragile. …On average, banks in the Eurozone and the U.S. would see jumps in ROE of about 2 percentage points, but these gains would still not lift returns above COE (Cost of Equity). And as the “taper tantrum” of 2013 showed, the reaction of markets to a change in central bank policy is far from clear; unforeseen problems could easily overshadow any gains from a rate rise.”

So to sum this up:

1) Let’s stop whingeing about poor banks squeezed by low interest rates: these banks face zero or even negative cost of funding which subsidies their unsustainable business model; the same banks are also benefiting from a massive monetary subsidy (low interest rates reduce loans defaults and prolong cash extraction period for the banks prior to loan default materialisation);
2) Even if interest rates are ‘normalised’, the banks won’t be able to cover the cost of equity through their normal operations; and
3) The real reason banks are bleeding profits is because they are incapable of reforming their business models and product offers and are, as the result, suffering from challengers taking chunks out of traditional banks’ most profitable business strategies.

But, more on this in my forthcoming article for the International Banker.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2/5/16: There's Only One Position of Integrity on TTIP: Kill It

In a recent op-ed in FT, Wolfgang Münchau raised a very valid point that globalisation, free trade and markets liberalisation do produce both winners and losers. Nothing new here. But the key point is that this realisation must be timed / juxtaposed against political and social realities on the ground

Quoting from Münchau (emphasis is mine): “In the past two years, there has been a dramatic reversal of public opinion in Germany about the benefits of free global trade in general, and TTIP in particular. In 2014, almost 90 per cent of Germans were in favour of free trade, according to a YouGov poll. That has fallen to 56 per cent. The number of people who reject TTIP outright has risen from 25 per cent to 33 per cent over the same period of time.  These numbers do not suggest that the EU should become protectionist. But… [EU leaders] should be more open-minded about the political costs of this agreement. …A no to TTIP would at least remove one factor behind the surge in anti-EU or anti-globalisation attitudes.

The marginal economic benefits of the agreement are outweighed by the political consequences of its adoption.

What advocates of global market liberalisation should recognise is that both globalisation and European integration have produced losers. Both were supposed to produce a situation in which nobody should be worse off, while some might be better off.”

See the full text here:

Perhaps it is this dynamic - of the excess supply of losers and the over-concentration of winners - that is behind the dire state of global trade growth:

Wolfgang Münchau's article came in days ahead of the leaks that revealed the duplicit nature of EU and U.S. negotiating positions on TTIP (see Leaked TTIP documents cast doubt on EU-US trade deal), well before we knew that (again, emphasis is mine) "These leaked documents give us an unparalleled look at the scope of US demands to lower or circumvent EU protections for environment and public health as part of TTIP. The EU position is very bad, and the US position is terrible. ...The way is being cleared for a race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards."

In simple terms, TTIP is risking to further magnify the chasm between the winners in the Agreement (larger corporates on both sides of the Atlantic, plus Governments) and the losers (consumers, small firms and entrepreneurs).

The documents reveal that under the TTIP, "American firms could influence the content of EU laws at several points along the regulatory line, including through a plethora of proposed technical working groups and committees." If so, the TTIP will only increase bureaucratic costs and amplify impact of large corporates lobbying power at the expense of smaller firms and start ups.

As bad as the U.S. position, is, EU's position is even worse. Despite making lots of political noise about protecting European consumers, environmental and health standards etc, the EU negotiators have clearly adopted a two-faced-Janus position vis-a-vis different stakeholders. For example, on many points of more controversial U.S. proposals, "the EU has not yet accepted the US demands, but they are uncontested in the negotiators’ note, and no counter-proposals have been made in these areas." In other words, the EU leadership is saying one thing to the European audiences (advancing a virtuous position of a defender of consumer rights and environment) while positing no explicit objection to the U.S. proposals. In simple terms, the EU leadership appears to be outright lying and manipulating public opinion.

How do we know this?

"In January, the EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said the precautionary principle, obliging regulatory caution where there is scientific doubt, was a core and non-negotiable EU principle. She said: “We will defend the precautionary approach to regulation in Europe, in TTIP and in all our other agreements.” But the principle is not mentioned in the 248 pages of TTIP negotiating texts." In plain English, Malmström is lying.

Another example: "The public document offers a robust defence of the EU’s right to regulate and create a court-like system for disputes, unlike the internal note, which does not mention them." Again, what is said for public consumption is at odds to what the EU is saying at the negotiating table.

Wolfgang Münchau pointed that "The marginal economic benefits of the agreement are outweighed by the political consequences of its adoption".  

But you can also add to his equation negative social consequences of the TTIP and adverse consequences to SMEs and entrepreneurs. By the time you do the sums, it is clear that TTIP is not an agreement about free trade, but an agreement about corporatist  system takeover of transcontinental trade and investment flows. As such, its marginal benefits are negative to begin with.

2/5/16: Top 100 People To Follow To Discover Financial News On Twitter 2016 Rankings

Delighted to be included in the StreetEye's second annual The Top 100 People To Follow To Discover Financial News On Twitter listing:

Great company all around!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

27/4/16: The Debt Crisis: It Hasn't Gone Away

That thing we had back in 2007-2011? We used to call it a Global Financial Crisis or a Great Recession... but just as with other descriptors favoured by the status quo 'powers to decide' - these two titles were nothing but a way of obscuring the ugly underlying reality of the global economy mired in a debt crisis.

And just as the Great Recession and the Global Financial Crisis have officially receded into the cozy comforters of history, the Debt Crisis kept going on.

Hence, we have arrived:


U.S. corporate debt is going up, just as operating cashflows are going down. And so leverage risk - the very same thing that demolished the global markets back in 2007-2008 - is going up because debt is going up faster than equity now:

As ZeroHedge article correctly notes, all we need to bust this bubble is a robust hike in cost of servicing this debt. This may come courtesy of the Central Banks. Or it might come courtesy of the markets (banks & bonds repricing). Or it might come courtesy of both, in which case: the base rate rises, the margin rises and debt servicing costs go up on the double.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

27/4/16: MIIS Team Comes Second in 2015-2016 The Economist MBA Case Competition

Well done to our MBA students at MIIS ( on taking the second place in The Economist MBA case competition: Real Vision Investment Case Study. See the details of the case study here: The winners were from Ryerson University. Our students second place project is described here: Awesome result!

This comes on foot of 2015 win by MIIS team in The Economist MBA case competition: Muddy Waters Investment Competition, the details of which are available here:

Which, of course, attests not only to the brilliance of students, but also to the consistently top quality of the programme.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

24/4/16: Silicon Valley Blues Go Into a Sax Solo...

In recent weeks, I have been covering growing evidence of pressures in the ICT sector bubble (the Silicon valley blues of shrinking VC valuations and funding). You can track this coverage from here:

Now, with its usual tardiness, the Fortune arrives to the topic too, in a rather good exposition here:

Good summary graphic from Renaissance Capital:

But, of course, what is more interesting in the sector development is the horror show of earnings reporting that is unfolding across mature segment of the tech sector. These are well-covered here:, offering the following summary:

So let's see: earnings in mature segment are falling or the 5th quarter in a row (even when you control for Apple performance); earnings of Apple (tech leader) are into their second consecutive quarter of severe pressures. And unicorns (which don't even offer any serious basis for fundamentals-based valuations, including those on the basis of earnings) are rapidly taking on water. You don't really need a CFA to get this one right...