Investors Go “All In” With US Financials Shares, As The Euro And The European Financial Institutions Turn Down

I … US based small cap shares, especially the financials, made strong gains in the first half of December 2010.
The MSN Chart of Small Cap Stocks RWJ, TWON, XLES, CNDA, KROO, XLIS, XLYS, XLVS, XLKS, IWM, XLUS  for the period of December 1 to December 17, 2010 shows the strong gains during December 2010 for the US based small cap shares with financial shares near the top of the list.

Financial, RWJ, 7.1%
Taiwan, TWON, 6.5%
Energy, XLES, 8.0%
Canada,CNDA, 5.7%
Australia, KROO, 7.9%
Industrial, XLIS, 9.7%
Discretionary, XLYS, 5.4%
Health Care, XLVS, 9.1%
Information, XLKS, 8.0%
Russell 2000, IWM, 7.2%
Utility, XLUS, 4.0%

Big gainers this month include:
Banks, KBE, 11.8%; although strong this week, the chart shows how the Banks, KBE, fell as he European Sovereign Debt Crisis came on; and note how they have failed at resistance of 25.5 now for the third time.
Financials, XLF, 7.9%  
Leveraged S&P,  BXUB, 14.0%
Steel, SLX, 12.5%
Software, SWH, 9.3%
Home building, ITB, 12.5%
Biotechnology, PBE, 8.9%
Telecom Holders, TTH, 6.1%
Design and Build, PKB, 10.%
Environmental Services, EVX, 8.7%
Networking, PXQ, 7.7%
Water, CGW, 6.9%
Semiconductors, XSD, 6.1%

Index gains this month were as follows:
S&P, SPY, 4.9%
Nasdaq, QQQQ, 4.6%
Dow, DIA,  4.3%

II … Marketwatch reports Treasurys having one of worst months since 1990

III … The US Dollar, $USD, rose Friday December 17, 2010, to close at 80. 38.

IV … Tyler Durden reports:  “The Baltic Dry Index, $BDI, a measure of raw materials-shipping costs, slid below 2,000 points in London for the first time since August because of a surplus of panamax-class vessels competing for cargoes. The gauge slid 1.4% to 1,999 points, for a ninth consecutive retreat. The last time the overall index traded below 2,000 points was Aug. 5, 2010.”

V … China holds off on tightening.
Bloomberg reported on December 13, 2010:  “China risks a more abrupt tightening in monetary policy next year after refraining from raising interest rates since October even as inflation accelerated to the fastest pace in more than two years.  Consumer prices jumped 5.1% in November. A measure of wholesale costs climbed 6.1%… Even so, the central bank held off over the weekend on the rate move predicted. Policy makers’ hesitation may be in part a product of China’s policy of holding down the yuan, as higher returns on deposits and loans would boost prospects for inflows of speculative capital that put pressure on the exchange rate.” … China Shares, FXI, have turned down 1.7% this month. They have sold off 10.9% since November 4, 2010

VI … Investors go bullish on US Financials as the European Financial Institutions turn lower on failure to resolve the European Sovereign Debt and Bank Debt Crisis.
A … Jeff Kearns and Whitney Kisling of Bloomberg report  Bullish Options Bets on U.S. Financial Stocks Jump to Highest in 13 Months. “U.S. options traders are making the most bullish wagers on banks in more than a year, speculating financial companies will rally as the economy improves and analysts predict 21 percent profit growth next year. The ratio of outstanding calls to buy the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund versus puts to sell rose by a third since October to 1.04 and reached 1.15 on Dec. 6, a 13-month high. The fastest-growing bet is that the ETF tracking 81 lenders and brokers including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. will jump 29 percent to $20 by June. “People in the options market are betting heavily that these stocks will go up,” said Chris Rich, head options strategist at JonesTrading Institutional Services LLC in Chicago. “I’m seeing a lot of smart-money guys buying out of the money calls in banks. When I see everyone marching in the same direction at the same time, that’s something I take note of. It’s a strong signal.”

B …Pragmatic Capitalist reports Now Bullishness Is At Its Highest Level Since 2007.   The latest reading from the Investor’s Intelligence survey showed another climb in bullish sentiment to 56.8%.  This is the highest reading since the Fall of 2007 when equity markets were at their all-time highs. The AAII survey is showing similar bullishness at 50.2%.  This is down slightly from last week, but still well above the historical average of 39%. According to Bespoke Investments there isn’t a single analyst from one of the major bank who believes equity prices will decline next year; the average expected return is 10%.  Barclays 1420 … UBS 1325 … HSBC … 1320 … My expectation is that the S&P, SPY, is awesomely lower; like well under 700.

C … US Banks profit by NOT pursuing Fannie Maes’s and Freddie Mac’s  loss mitigation policies.
Rebel A. Cole of The Washington Times reports Big Banks Profiting From Foreclosure Crisis: “The longer real estate is frozen, the more they make. The US housing crisis is entering its fourth year, yet Lender Processing Services says more than 2 million homes are in the process of foreclosure and another 2 million are seriously delinquent, having missed more than three monthly payments. Moreover, the average home in the process of foreclosure has been delinquent more than 16 months. How can this be? Certainly, it is in the best interests of both borrower and lender to resolve a delinquency quickly; the borrower wants to avoid eviction, while the lender wants to avoid the typical 50-percent-plus loss associated with a residential foreclosure. The answer lies in the perverse incentives put in place by the Wall Street securitization machine; in particular, the perverse incentives facing the once-obscure entities known as “mortgage servicers.” These servicers, the largest of which are subsidiaries of the “Big Four” banks Bank of America, Citi Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo,  do the “grunt work” formerly done by mortgage-portfolio lenders. For a small fee, they collect monthly mortgage payments and distribute them to the investors who purchased the rights to mortgage cash flows in the form of residential mortgage-backed securities or “sliced and diced” derivative securities, such as collateralized debt obligations. The perverse incentives arise because of provisions in the pooling and servicing agreements, which are the contracts that govern the mortgage-backed securities. These provisions provide for the servicers and their affiliates to extract late fees and other forms of income (foreclosure fees, forced-insurance premiums, property inspection fees, property valuation fees, etc.) from the often unwary delinquent homeowner. Moreover, these fees and income typically are paid to servicers before any payments go to the investor-lenders. Consequently, they rob equity from the homeowner and, once that equity is exhausted, rob principal and interest payments from the investor-lender. These fees include monthly late fees similar to those for a missed credit card payment; they can be quite substantial relative to the monthly mortgage payment and, cumulatively, can quickly move a delinquent homeowner from a positive to a negative equity position, making foreclosure all but a certainty.”

And Irvine Renter in article Banks Encourage Strategic Default By Reducing FICO Impact relates: “Banks are again encouraging strategic default with their policies. This time they are reducing the FICO score impact because they want to keep the credit card business going with strategic defaulters. One of the major fears people have concerning accelerating their mortgage default is that they will be cut off from future borrowing by a lowered FICO score. This fear is important to the functioning of the system because if people do not fear the ramifications of default, many more will default, and bank losses will mount.”

He references the New York Times article Eric Dash article Risky Borrowers Find Credit Again, At A Price. “Lenders are “tiptoeing their way back into the higher-risk pool of customers,” said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at In extending credit again to riskier borrowers, lenders are looking beyond standard credit scores, on the theory that some people who may seem to be equivalent credit risks on the surface may show differences in spending or other behavior like registering on a job Web site, that suggest variations in their ability to keep up with payments. Industry consultants, in their attempt to feed the demand for finer classifications of borrowers, have coined new labels to describe different borrowers with similar credit scores. One is “strategic defaulters,” whose credit scores were damaged because they walked away from a home when its value dropped below what was owed on the mortgage. These borrowers made a bad bet on real estate but may otherwise be prudent risks because they make a good living. Similarly, “first-time defaulters” once had a strong credit record but ran into financial trouble during the recession. Typically, these borrowers fell behind on some sort of loan payment after losing a job, not from taking on too much debt. By contrast, there are “sloppy payers,” who pay only some bills on time; “abusers,” who are defiant about paying; and “distressed borrowers,” who simply do not have the means to pay. The goal is to weed out the latter groups to identify consumers whose credit scores are blemished but who still have the money to pay their bills. “Lenders want to prove to themselves that it is worth taking a higher risk,” said Brad Jolson, an executive of the decision management company FICO, who has helped several card companies analyze their customer base. This new approach to assessing default risk is emblematic of the challenge faced by the many banks that were hobbled by the financial crisis: They desperately want to grow again, but the memory of a near-death experience makes them wary about taking outsize risks. Lenders have taken $189 billion in credit card losses since 2007, according to Oliver Wyman Group, a financial consultancy. That was a significant part of the $2 trillion or so that banks are estimated to have lost since the crisis began, and a contributor to the government bailout of the banking system. To stem losses, lenders halted new card offers to all but their most affluent customers. At the same time, more than eight million consumers stopped using their credit cards, in a sign of the nationwide belt-tightening, according to TransUnion, the credit bureau. Millions more borrowers who still have cards have been compelled to pay down their balances, or are more often choosing to use cash. That has had a big impact on lenders’ bottom lines. Credit cards once gave the banking industry as much as a quarter of its profits; today those profits have all but vanished and lenders are seeking ways to replace them.  Now that the losses have stabilized, lenders have set out to revive their card businesses, and mail offers to riskier borrowers are roaring back. Now that the losses have stabilized, lenders have set out to revive their card businesses, and mail offers to riskier borrowers are roaring back.HSBC,  mailed more than 16 million card offers to this group in the third quarter of this year, Citigroup 14 million and Discover 10 million, all roughly tenfold increases over the same period last year, according to Synovate Mail Monitor, a market research firm. Capital One’s rate rose fifty fold, to 22 million.”

Irvine Renter continues: “Obtaining future credit is what motivated borrower behavior. People will do whatever they have to in order to obtain that next loan. Usually that means continuing to pay the last one. Lenders don’t want to see deleveraging even if it sit he best thing for our economy. The banks don’t care about the economy. They only care about making the most money they can by keeping people in a state of indentured servitude. Bankers would be elated if people could borrow their way to prosperity and keep all their bad debt alive and active. In many cases, second mortgage debt including old HELOCs simply become revolving credit debt that is no longer secured by real estate. Strategic defaulters opt to continue paying on second liens to keep access to the line of credit. I agree with this author that the banks shouldn’t be giving strategic defaulters access to easy credit so soon after the default. Word will get out, and people will have one less reason not to walk away from their mortgages.”

D … Patricia Kowsmann of the Wall Street Journal report BOE: U.K. Banks Potentially Face More Bad-Debt Charges.

The Eurozone, United Kingdom Bank, Barclays, BCS, fell 2.1%.

E … European Financials turn lower.
Philip Aldrick of the Telegraph reports that Mr Strauss-Kahn criticised Europe’s disjointed response to the eurozone sovereign debt banking crisis after Germany and other states resisted his calls for bolder action on Tuesday December 7, 2010 warning that “piecemeal” fixes would not work and a “comprehensive” solution is needed.

I note that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has given “the clarion call” for a comprehensive solution to the European Financial Institution, Sovereign Debt Symbiosis Crisis.

The Strauss-Kahn call for a comprehension solution has gone unanswered as John Mauldin in Safehaven article relates that Europe is Kicking The Can Down The Road   

After the Leaders Summit of mid December 2010, the European Financials, EUFN, immediately fell 1.0% lower, the European Shares, VGK, fell 0.9%, and the Euro, FXE, fell 0.4% to 131.35.

Abigail Moses in Bloomberg article writes Sovereign Swaps Jump As Irish Downgrade Fuels Contagion Concern. “Ireland’s credit rating, which has a “negative outlook” at Moody’s, is now three levels above junk and the same as Russia and Lithuania. Moody’s yesterday placed Greece’s Ba1 rating on review for a possible “multi-notch” downgrade and said Dec. 15 it may lower Spain from Aa1. Belgium’s AA+ credit rating may be hurt by “prolonged political uncertainty,” Standard & Poor’s said December 14, 2010. Credit-default swaps on Belgium increased 6 basis points to 202, Spain rose 6 basis points to 332, Portugal increased 11 to 467, Greece climbed 12 to 965 and Italy was 2 higher at 204, CMA prices show. The Markit iTraxx SovX Western Europe Index of swaps on 15 governments rose 6 basis points to 194. Markit Group Ltd.’s financial index of swaps on the senior debt of 25 European banks and insurers increased 9 basis points to 174.5, JPMorgan prices show.”

The European banks are unable to recapitalize themselves; they have no credit seigniorage as they are burdened with non-marketable sovereign debt of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. The only capital the banks receive is by selling debt to the ECB.

The European banking crisis, which Herman van Rompuy referred to as the sovereign crisis, is a two fold crisis, that of debt sovereignty and of sovereignty itself.

The nations have lost fiscal sovereignty and fiscal seigniorage, as demonstrated by the high interest rates they must pay. The question arose in early May 2010, with the provision of seigniorage aid to Greece: who shall be in charge of nation state economy, its tax philosophy and public spending?

With the acceptance of aid, Greece’s leaders waived national sovereignty, and European Leaders meeting in Summit announced European economic governance. At a later date they announced fiscal federalism with a plan for vetting of national budgets before they are presented to state legislatures. Global corporatism, that is state corporate rule, now governs Europe and its people, those in Greece are the first to be subjected to internal devaluation and increasingly harsh austerity. Those living in the Eurozone are no longer citizens of sovereign nation states, they are residents living in a region of global governance.    

Seeing such debt overhang, bond vigilantes, will be calling interest rates higher globally, followed in place by currency traders selling the Euro, FXE, and other world currencies, causing bank stock, and corporate stock values to fall.    

Marco Shipping quotes a Bloomberg article where Sanford C. Bernstein analysts including Dirk Hoffmann-Becking said: “We expect the eurozone sovereign debt crisis to become worse before it gets better.”  French banks had the most at stake in Greece, with $83.1 billion (Dh305.235 billion) at risk, compared with German bank holdings of $65.4 billion, the data show. British banks had $187.5 billion in exposure to Ireland, while German lenders had $186.4 billion. Banks in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, had $512.7 billion at risk to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain at the end of the second quarter, according to Basil Switzerland based Bank for International Settlements, BIS.”

The convergence carry trade is about to unwind: it is the very definition of systemic risk making for the ultimate black swan event.

Tracy Alloway in article The Eurozone ‘Convergence Carry Unwind’  writes:  “With Spanish bond yields briefly hitting new highs yesterday after the Moody’s announcement, and ahead of the last Spanish bond auction this year (EUR3bn in 10 and 15 year maturities), we look at the geographical breakdown of debt holdings using portfolio investment data from the IMF. The overall conclusion is similar to the more frequently used BIS data set, namely that Spanish debt is almost exclusively being held by European investors. This once again highlights that much of the European sovereign debt crisis is an issue of distribution of losses within EMU participants, and new rules on how to optimally share credit risk going forward. (My thought is no one, nobody, nada wants to participate in this risk).

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Euro-zone periphery convergence trades were generally very profitable. Back in the mid-2000s the Eurozone variant of the global carry trade was epitomised by the so called conversion funds. These fixed income funds focused on economic conversion but more importantly yield conversion. And, because the initially targeted CEE markets lacked depth, exposure also rose to peripheral markets within the Eurozone. The more aggressive variants of this carry trade included even selling of CDS protection in these markets.

To some extent the Eurozone crisis has therefore followed the path of other carry unwinds in recent years, as for example the Yen. It is no surprise in that context that the European convergence carry unwind was accompanied by the unwind of funding positions in the Swiss Franc, which rallied to record highs while the European sovereign crisis erupted.

On the winning side, non-Eurozone holders of debt securities mainly issued by core countries were effectively short carry. After years of under-performance, the scepticism has finally played out in 2010.

Indeed. This is the ‘re-risking of the eurozone‘ put on by some canny hedge funds in the 2000s — taking the other side of the so-called convergence trade, for instance, buying CDS on weaker EU states. Lots of those funds — especially in the CDS space — gave up the trade before imbalances between EMU members became apparent in the latter-half of 2009. Those that held out though, would be sitting on hefty profits. Leaving the not-so-canny majority to their messy ‘Convergence Carry Unwind’.”

VII …  Stock markets likely peaked out this week.
World stocks, VT, peaked out before the Leaders Summit, that is on December 14, 2010 at 48.10 and closed the week lower at 47.70

The S&P, SPY, peaked out one day after the Leaders Summit that is on December 16, 2010 at 124.82, and closed the week at lower at 124.30.

International Utilities, IPU, are both interest rate sensitive and Euro Sensitive; they fell 1.0% lower today.

International Dividend Payers, DOO, fell lower.

International Basic Materials, DBN, fell lower.

A higher dollar will not necessarily mean higher commodity, DBC, prices. I expect higher food commodities, FUD, in terms of local currencies; but lower commodity prices overall especially copper, JJC,  

Biofuels, FUE, trades like a stock and a commodity, it appears to have topped out.

It was on November 4, 2010 that the bond vigilantes sustained the Interest Rate on the US Government 30 Year Bond above 4.0%. This gave the currency traders the opportunity to sell the worlds major currencies, DBV, and emerging market currencies, CEW, causing the US Dollar, $USD, to rise.

A catastrophe is coming out of rising sovereign debt interest rates, as well out of further global competitive currency devaluations at the hands of the currency traders, resulting in a financial market place implosion,  the European Financial Institutions, EUFN, will fall quickly falling in value, taking the entire global financial system down, resulting in Götterdämmerung, an investment flame out, bringing forth a new age. I believe a Seignior, an old English Word meaning top dog banker who takes a cut will arise with power with fiscal sovereignty to control deficit spending, enforce internal country devaluations, provide a common EU Treasury for both taxation and transfer payments, assure mutual guarantees of the EU debt, and as Timothy Geithner called for, implement unified regulation of banking globally. All seigniorage, both credit and fiscal will come and go through the Seignior, who will make decisions on where money is spent. The Seignior will coordinate all aspects of economic policy, includes taxes, wages.

Bernard Condon of the Associated Press reports: The worst performed the best in this bull market Crazy bull, gutsy buyers win big as riskiest stocks soar beyond expectation: “The 10 percent of stocks in the S&P 500 that attracted the most short sales at the start of the year are up 26 percent, according to data provider FactSet. Those with the least short sales rose 17 percent.

Another winner in the stop-and-go economy: stocks of so-called cyclical companies whose profits are bound up tightly with economic cycles. Consumer discretionary companies like toy maker Mattel Inc., for instance, gained 90 percent last year from their lows as investors anticipated that people would spend more on non-essentials. Then prices kept rising, up another 25 percent this year.”

Examples of consumer discretionary companies include: Rent A Center, RCII,  Zumiez, ZUMZ,  Hansen Natural, HANS, Hasbro, HAS, Knot, KNOT, Liberty Media, LCAPA, Polaris Industries, PII, Royal Caribbean Cruise, RCL,  SanDisk, SNDK,, STMP, Stanley Black Decker, SWK, Tempur-Pedic Intl, TPX, Thor Industries, THO, Tootsie Roll, TR, Toro Co, TTC,  and International Flavors & Fragrances Incorporated,  IFF,

The report continues: “Stocks of small firms are beating stocks of big companies, too. Big companies are thought safer because they sell many products and services in many countries and can tap various sources to finance themselves. Yet the S&P Small Cap 600 index, after returning 85 percent last year from its March low, is up another 24 percent in 2010. That’s more than double the 11 percent gain in the S&P 500, a large-company index. “These things go in cycles,” says USAA stock manager Arnold Espe of the small-stock outperformance. “We think we’re at an inflection point.”

Yes, I agree the world is at an inflection point.

Investors recently took flight to US shares, especially the small cap shares found in USAA mutual fund USCAX. This is seen in the MSN Finance chart of the Russell 2000, IWM, the European Financials, EUFN, and the emerging market small Caps, EWX …. IWM, EUFN, and EWX.  Moneyness has come to a number of commodities. Gasoline, UGA, has been driven up by speculators on the futures market; I believe that it has hit a high; it may command a premium over oil; but Oil, USO, being overbought will fall lower as it has a significant yen carry trade investment, USO:FXY, that will unwind.

Debt deflation, that is currency deflation came to the European banks, as well as the emerging market small cap shares, while moneyness came to the small US based companies. The US Dollar, $USD, has risen as reflected in its 200% ETF, UUP, rising beginning November 5, 2010. And it broke-out December 15, 2010, the very day that the European Leaders met.

The world passed from the age of leveraging and asset value appreciation  …  and into the age of deleveraging, and debt deflation on November 4, 2010, when the bond traders seized control of both the Interest Rate on The US 30 Year Government Bond, $TYX, and the Interest rate on the 10 Year US Government Note, $TNX  

This in response to Ben Bernanke’s announcement of QE2 monetized debt, and as President Obama’s projected deficit spending developed the risk of a failed US Treasury auction.   

It was also at this time Mrs Merkel called for a haircut on debt, and called for a sovereign debt default mechanism.

Anticipation of QE2 provided moneyness to bonds; however, on the other hand, announcement of QE2, destroyed the moneyness of bonds, as the 30-10 US Sovereign Debt Yield Curve flattened.  

The flattening of the 30 10 US Sovereign Debt Yield Curve yield curve, $TYX:$TNX, came as investors fled the longer out bonds, such as EDV, more than they did the shorter duration bonds, such as IEF.

November 4, 2010 was an economic pivot point, where … the world passed from the age of leveraging, characterised by credit expansion, currency expansion, and increasing consumer discretionary spending, economic growth and inflation in investment value with moneyness  …. and into the age of deleveraging, characterised by credit contraction, currency contraction, decreasing consumer discretionary spending, economic contraction, and deflation in investment value with the destruction of moneyness.

Not only are we at an investment inflection but a political one as well. Global leader Jeffrey E. Garten, writing in YaleGlobalOnline article Brace for Change as the Global Economic Order Crumbles holds out hope that new leadership in the next decade will appear with visionary ideas to engage the world in the next stage of global governance: “It was inevitable that the Bretton Woods system could not last indefinitely, even after its adaptation from fixed to (Milton Friedman inspired) floating-exchange rates in the early 1970s. While an impressive international effort to bail out financial institutions and stimulate economies with government spending stopped the disaster from reaching 1930s proportions, the debacle revealed a number of fault lines that may be worsening. After all, the major global trade and financial imbalances that helped cause the financial implosion show no signs of narrowing. In addition, gaping holes in the regulatory structure for banking still exist, including the absence of rules to wind up global banks, and scant international supervision of the shadow banking system. The aftermath of the credit implosion may, in fact, be leading to another set of crises less susceptible to a concerted bailout. The severe sovereign-debt and banking problems in Europe may just be gathering steam, as financial pressures careen from Greece and Ireland to Portugal and Spain. The EU will be in a fight for its very survival as an economic super-state, with the focus not just on saving national economies and banks, not just preserving the euro, but also pulling up its long-cherished social safety nets by the roots. As the old economic order withers, the financial markets – and not governments – will be the arbiters of how capital and trade move, and how severe government adjustment policies need to be. This situation will be accompanied by more than one major financial crisis and more difficulty for global traders and investors moving across the world. This very chaos could, however, provoke a shock effect that compels a sharply elevated level of cooperation among key governments. They could work more closely with their globally integrated firms, to advance a design of a new order. That could encompass new currency arrangements, a strengthened World Trade Organization, an International Monetary Fund with enforcement capabilities, a high authority with serious oversight for global financial regulation. A new generation of leadership could emerge, weary of failed policies of the previous 10 years and much wiser for it. These men and women are likely to be willing to move ahead with the many new ideas that are sure to evolve during a period of chaos and instability.The great challenge facing our leaders is to shorten the time and blunt the pain between the chaos and its much more positive aftermath. It’s a tall order.”


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