Hedge Fund CIO: “Sinners Have Become The System And Will Be Eternally Supported By Policy”

Hedge Fund CIO: “Sinners Have Become The System And Will Be Eternally Supported By Policy”

By Eric Peters, CIO of One River Asset Management


“At some point on the current path, policy makers will attempt to normalize,” said the CIO. We were discussing sequencing, recognizing its centrality to macro trading, investing. “They will start by attempting to taper Fed purchases,” he said, the US central bank currently creating $120bln per month and using it to purchase debt. “Perhaps they signal that they intend to lower the deficit.” But of course, that would only be after they first lift the deficit to fund America’s coming $3trln Recovery Plan. “And at that point, the clock starts ticking,” he said.

“Even if one thinks the current policy path inevitably leads to a substantial inflation, there are enough orthodox policy makers that we can be confident they’ll try to avert that outcome,” continued the same CIO. “So what we need to figure out is how far they’ll let stocks and inflation run before they’re compelled to taper,” he said. “And then we’ll need to judge how long it will take for the economy and/or market to take a deep dive.” Not long. “When they then quickly pivot and aggressively ease, their predicament will be clear for all to see.”

“Given the size of the stimulus and deficits at this stage, if policy makers are seen to be unable to normalize in any material way, that will be the stage in the sequencing when the great reset begins,” explained the same CIO. “Markets at that point will move very fast.” Maintaining calm given current policy settings requires inflation expectations to remain anchored and investors to believe policy can be normalized. “I am often a bit early on the very big trades, but this whole sequence appears sure to play out over the coming three years.”
“The biggest macro change in the past 50yrs was the taming of inflation,” said Marco Polo, my favorite macro modeler. “Paul Volcker was a byproduct of the political choice to anchor inflation in a post-gold-standard world. It required great resolve, and management of a domestic financial crisis induced by the high interest rates needed to get the job done. Don Kohn observed that the Volcker master lesson ‘was to protect the system but not the sinner – and that required facts, analysis, and flexibility.’ Volcker was the first Fed Chair who required a personal bodyguard. The Hunt brothers (silver), Penn Square and Continental Illinois (oil) and the entire Farm Credit System were all strained by his decisions and Volcker was the first Fed Chair who required a personal bodyguard. The resolve to tackling inflation cannot be overstated.”

“The virtuous cycle of declining government bond yields in the past three decades that followed Volcker’s attack on inflation has been an overwhelmingly positive impulse to financial portfolios,” explained Marco Polo. “Government bonds played a large role, directly or indirectly through other assets that benefited from lower bond yields. To illustrate the point, I built a simple dynamic portfolio of stocks, bonds, the US dollar, and commodities. Allocations to those asset classes are selected depending on the state of the macro economy.”

“When things are good and getting better, asset allocation is split between stocks and commodities; bonds are the asset allocation when things are good but weakening; long US dollar exposure is deployed in downturns; stocks and foreign currency allocations are the benchmark in early upturns,” continued Marco. “The states of the macro economy are probability weighted and rebalanced over time to arrive at a balanced portfolio. The annualized monthly return of such an approach since Sep 1981 is +7.5% with volatility of less than 6%. Not bad for a passive, blunt approach.”
“Let’s include a long-bond overlay to the asset allocation in all macro states so that the average gross portfolio exposure is 2x,” said Marco. “Think of this leverage as a move out the risk spectrum. The historical performance jumps to +11.5% and the Sharpe rises to more than 1.5x. Of course, asset managers did not initially have the foresight to implement such a portfolio nor did financial intermediaries have the risk appetite to provide short-term funding. But with time and reinforcement from policy actions that tell us sinners have now become the system and will thus be eternally supported by policy, portfolios have pushed far out the risk spectrum taking long duration exposure directly or indirectly. It is all the same trade.”

“Recent correlations reinforce the point. The US TIPs and Tesla daily correlation is nearly 30% this year. TIPs act like a low-beta play on highly valued growth companies. Both are bets on duration. The difference today from the past is today’s low starting point of bond yields. At steeply negative real yields and very low nominals, the role of bonds in a portfolio becomes heavily challenged. German bund performance in the Mar 2020 period is also a good reminder. Bund prices rose sharply over 7wks during the pandemic and reversed that move in 10-days.”

“Bunds provided no protection to slower-moving asset allocators. Ten-year German real yields now trade -1.75%. They have no value as an investment, nor as a risk-mitigator,” said Marco. “Asset managers have no choice but to explore alternatives to bonds and find risk mitigators to long duration exposure. And official institutions have little choice but to lean against any undesired rise in ‘risk free’ yields. Everyone is a sinner now, the system is held hostage. After all, 44% of outstanding Treasury securities are held between the Fed and foreign official institutions. And at any wobble they buy more.”

Tyler Durden
Sun, 03/28/2021 – 21:20

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