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For The Second Straight Month, The Fed Bought Zero Bond ETFs

For The Second Straight Month, The Fed Bought Zero Bond ETFs

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For The Second Straight Month, The Fed Bought Zero Bond ETFs Tyler Durden Thu, 10/08/2020 - 19:50

For much of the past seven months, the biggest story in capital markets was the Fed's Blackrock-mediated purchases of corporate bonds, either in the primary or secondary market or via ETFs.

As a reminder, while the Fed pre-announced its intention to purchase up to $750BN in corporate bond (including certain fallen-angel junk bonds) in March, it started purchasing bonds in May, and bond ETFs in June (among which such mainstays as LQD and HYG). By directly entering the corporate bond market - something none of his predecessors dared to do even at the depths of the financial crisis  - Powell created what many - us included - said the biggest corporate and junk bond bubble in history, because by backstopping prices the Fed terminally disconnected fundamentals from prices.

And, as expected, bond prices, stocks, and ETFs all surged while yields plunged, even while the underlying cash flow fundamentals deteriorated as everyone was trying to front-run the Fed’s pending or concurrent massive purchases. In other words, by jawboning alone, the Fed accomplished its handiwork.

Yet something odd happened last month: in all of August, when during the peak summer doldrums it was SoftBank's turn to steal the spotlight with its now infamous gamma meltup, the Fed did not buy a single ETF, and barely bought any corporate bonds, which prompted us to ask: is Powell sending markets a message?

In retrospect it appears he was, because after an early swoon in the first days of September, stocks suffered their first major bout of turbulence since June last month when they closed in the red for the first time since the covid pandemic broke out.

So fast forward to today when the Fed released the latest monthly activity details under its Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility when we find that for the second month in a row, the Fed bought zero corporate ETFs...

... and logically, the number of ETF shares held was unchanged for the second consecutive month:

Looking at the bond level data showed a similar picture: here the Fed or rather Blackrock was just a bit busier, and bought just $420 million par value of bonds between Aug 31 and Sept 29, after purchasing just $421 million the month prior.

However, unlike August when Blackrock purchased $7 million in Apple bonds across three CUSIPs with maturity dates in 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Why the Fed continues to buy Apple bonds - which are arguably the most liquid corporate bonds in the world - remains a mystery.

In any case, the modest September purchases, the Fed's total corporate bond holdings rose by $394 million from $3.988 billion to 4.382 billion, an amount which also included the redemptions of several issues.  And when combined with its $8.618 billion in ETF holdings, this means that as of August 31, the Fed owned just over $13 billion in bonds and ETFs.

Why is this notable?

Because this $13BN of bond purchases to date is a long way away from the $750BN figure the Fed initially said it was targeting and is far below the bogey the market has in mind. , as Johnson says "is currently in market participants psyche (i.e., 1.8% of what many continue to think the Fed will spend)".

What are the implications?

The fact that the Fed stopped supporting the corporate bond ETF market during August and then again in September, appears to be a rather stark - if still unspoken - reversal in Fed policy stance, and one which we wish a "financial reporter" had asked Chair Powell to explain why during last month's FOMC conference.

The key question, as we asked one month ago, "could it be that the Fed is starting to telegraph to the market that it moved too far, too fast? We hope to have the answer one month from today when we will learn if the Fed bought no ETFs for 3 consecutive months, and remember: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."

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Port Congestion Could Be Worse Than “Lehman Crash”, Flexport CEO Warns 

Port Congestion Could Be Worse Than "Lehman Crash", Flexport CEO Warns 

"The ports shutting down is worse than Lehman Brothers failing. Both can lead to catastrophic failures of all counterparties depending on them. But with Lehman, the…

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Port Congestion Could Be Worse Than "Lehman Crash", Flexport CEO Warns 

"The ports shutting down is worse than Lehman Brothers failing. Both can lead to catastrophic failures of all counterparties depending on them. But with Lehman, the government could just print tons of money to flood the banks with liquidity," Ryan Petersen, chief executive officer of logistics company Flexport, warned Friday after touring logjammed U.S. West Coast ports. 

Petersen said his firm hired a boat captain to tour Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, which account for 40% of all shipping containers entering the U.S. He said during the three-hour loop through the ports, passing every single terminal, "we saw less than a dozen containers get unloaded." 

He said the twin ports have hundreds of cranes but only "seven were even operating and those that were seemed to be going pretty slow." He said the bottleneck that everyone now agrees on is "yard space" and that "terminals are simply overflowing with containers, which means they no longer have space to take in new containers either from ships or land. It's a true traffic jam."

"The bottleneck right now is not the cranes. It's yard space at the container terminals. And it's empty chassis to come clear those containers out," he said.

The twin ports appear to be at a standstill even though President Biden issued a directive last week to keep them operating on a 24/7 basis. But that seems to be not enough because the president has weighed the use of the National Guard to alleviate constraints. 

Petersen suggested a "simple plan" for the state and federal government to partner with ports, truckers, and everyone else in the chain to create temporary container yards that stack empty ones up to six high instead of the limit of two. This would "free up tens of thousands of chassis that right now are just storing containers on wheels. Those chassis can immediately be taken to the ports to haul away the containers."

He said it was necessary to correct this bottleneck because it's a "negative feedback loop that is rapidly cycling out of control that will destroy the global economy if it continues unabated."

Goldman Sachs' Jordan Alliger agreed and told clients to monitor the ports. He said, "the most notable congestion indicator is the number of container ships anchored waiting to offload their freight returned to 70 ships anchored on October 18 after hitting a record of 73 on September 19, compared to their pre-pandemic average of 0-1 ships."

Petersen is right. The monetary wonks at the Federal Reserve are way over their heads. They can't print their way out of this shipping crisis they helped sparked by unleashing unprecedented monetary injections into capital markets over the last 19 months. The circulatory system of the global economy risks breaking as port congested worsens. 

Tyler Durden Sun, 10/24/2021 - 14:00

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At the Edge of Chaos: Market Breadth Breakout Signals Returning Uptrend as Options Market Remains Doubtful of Rally

Something’s got to give in the markets. And it may not take long before the next long term trend becomes apparent. The most reliable market indicator since 2016, the New York Stock Exchange Advance Decline line (NYAD), see below for full details, exploded

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Something's got to give in the markets. And it may not take long before the next long term trend becomes apparent.

The most reliable market indicator since 2016, the New York Stock Exchange Advance Decline line (NYAD), see below for full details, exploded to a new all time high on 10/20/21, and did not fall apart by week's end. This is signaling that for now, against all odds, despite the Fed's confirmation that the QE tapering is coming, the uptrend for stocks is back.

More interesting, as I will detail below, is the fact that even though stocks have broken out, options players remain very skeptical of the gains and bond traders are expecting the Fed's actions to slow the economy.

MELA Test Straight Ahead

The likelihood of a major move in the MELA system, where the markets (M), the economy (E), people's life decisions (L) and the algos interact (A), is approaching.

I know this sounds a bit confusing. But here's what seems to be happening. As I've noted here before, the bond market is torn between the sellers, who are afraid of inflation, and the buyers, who are betting that when the Fed tapers the economy will tumble.

Lately, the sellers have been in control of the bond market, as evidenced by the rising yield on the U.S. Ten Year note (TNX). This rise in market interest rates has put a damper on the stock market, which in true MELA fashion, has put a bit of crimp on the economy, especially areas such as home buying, as people have become cautious and slowed down their purchases. All of which has been amplified by the algos and created a choppy trading range for stocks.

Until Friday, that is, when Fed Chairman Powell noted that it was "time to taper," and TNX rolled over after running into intermediate-term resistance near the 1.7% yield area as the buyers came in.

So now we have an interesting setup. With less than a week before November, the month in which the Fed has signaled it will start its taper, bond traders are betting that the Fed's actions will hurt the economy while stock traders are betting that the bull trend in stocks has returned.

How is this possible?

Remember that the stock market is the centerpiece of MELA since it is the source of wealth for a large number of people via their 401 (k) plans and other stock trading related venues. In other words when the 401 (k) does well, as in periods when stocks rise, people feel wealthy and buy things.

And what do stocks like best? They love lower interest rates. All of which means that if the Fed tapers and things slow down, stock traders are betting that the Fed will likely have to restart QE.

In other words, it's all about the Fed and how the bond and stock markets respond because it will all play out in MELA.

It's time to buckle up.

"The edge of chaos is a transition space between order and disorder that is hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. This transition zone is a region of bounded instability that engenders a constant dynamic interplay between order and disorder." Complexity Labs

I own shares in APP as of this writing. For detailed option strategies and stock picks chose a FREE trial to Joe Duarte in the Money Options.com. Click here. You can also check out my latest video which expands on these strategies here.

Why Astra Zeneca's Monoclonal COVID Antibody Gamble May Pay Off

Shares of pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca (AZN) have been under quiet accumulation of late and recently scored a price breakout.

The breakout is interesting for sure, mostly because AZN's COVID vaccine has been associated with rare but serious complications. At the same time, other COVID vaccines have also been associated with complications. All of which means that even though the vaccines have been useful against the pandemic, there is clearly a treatment niche that needs filling in the fight against the virus.

Certainly, AZN has a top notch research team, which is why it's no surprise that they have developed a new and very promising monoclonal antibody to treat COVID infections which may fill that niche. Of course, at first glance they seem to be getting to the party a bit late given that Eli Lilly (LLY) and Regeneron (REGN) already have very successful COVID antibodies on the market.

But here is what could be the game changer; AZN's antibody may be useful as a preventive treatment for COVID, meaning that it is a potential vaccine-like product, although not likely a replacement. At least that's what the studies suggest, and what the company is trying to convince the FDA and global health agency approval committees of.

Put another way; AZN may have an alternative or an adjunct to COVID vaccines which would not likely replace vaccines but would give physicians another treatment option based on well accepted clinical situations such as patients at high risk of vaccine reactions. In addition, the AZN antibody can be administered on an outpatient basis, reducing costs and keeping hospital beds open for emergencies.

Moreover, the stock is also attractive based on the fact that AZN has several blockbuster drugs that have been flying under the radar of late such as its diabetes treatment Forxiga and several key anti-cancer drugs which are fueling year over year sales gains above 30% and an earnings growth rate of 20%.

Technically, AZN has cleared long term resistance above $61, where it may consolidate in the short term as traders wait for approval news on the antibody. But the stock is in an excellent setup for sure as Accumulation Distribution (ADI) has flattened out which suggests that short sellers are exhausted while On Balance Volume (OBV) has been moving higher, confirming that buyers have been using recent price dips to move into the stock.

I own shares in AZN as of this writing. For detailed option strategies and stock picks chose a FREE trial to Joe Duarte in the Money Options.com. Click here.

Options Traders Just Don't Trust this Market

In what may be a bullish contrarian sign, put volume continues to outshine call volume at key strike prices on the SPY options. What's most interesting is that even as the market's breadth (see below) has improved, option traders remain skittish and continue to buy puts just below the most current market price.

Of course, the precise nature of this development suggests that algos are hedging their bets. And while market maker algos hedge their bets based on order flow, CTA algos (quant funds) make bets on technical analysis based support and resistance levels.

It's not clear whether what we're seeing is the market makers or the CTAs. If it's the CTAs the odds may favor a rally if the market breakout continues as they will have to cover their shorts further. If the market maker algos are hedging, though, it could mean that the order flows are bearish and that this rally could be short lived.

To get the latest up to date information on options trading, check out "Options Trading for Dummies", now in its 4th Edition – Available Now!

# 1 New Release on Options Trading

Market Breadth Finally Breaks Out

After a nearly five month trading range the stock market's breadth finally broke out with the New York Stock Advance Decline line (NYAD) moving above recent and multiply times tested resistance level. Thus, until proven otherwise the uptrend has been re-established.

The S & P 500 (SPX) is hovering near its all time highs and trading above 4500 as well as its 20,50, 100, and 200 day moving averages with good confirmation from Accumulation Distribution (ADI) and On Balance Volume (OBV).

The Nasdaq 100 index (NDX) did not fare as well as SPX as it did not deliver an all time high and ended last week on a much weaker note.

Meanwhile the S & P Small Cap 600 index (SML) is knocking on the door of a potential breakout, but still remains somewhat further away from its all time highs than NDX and SPX.

Good news! I've made my NYAD-Complexity, Chaos chart (featured on my YD5 videos) and a few other favorites public. You can find them here.

Joe Duarte

In The Money Options


Joe Duarte is a former money manager, an active trader and a widely recognized independent stock market analyst since 1987. He is author of eight investment books, including the best selling Trading Options for Dummies, rated a TOP Options Book for 2018 by Benzinga.com - now in its third edition, The Everything Investing in your 20s and 30s and six other trading books.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Ten Year note yield (TNX) is trading in a The Everything Investing in your 20s & 30s at Amazon and The Everything Investing in your 20s & 30s at Barnes and Noble.

A Washington Post Color of Money Book of the Month is now available.

To receive Joe's exclusive stock, option, and ETF recommendations, in your mailbox every week visit https://joeduarteinthemoneyoptions.com/secure/order_email.asp.

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Weekly Market Pulse: Inflation Scare!

The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial stock averages made new all time highs last week as bonds sold off, the 10 year Treasury note yield briefly breaking above 1.7% before a pretty good sized rally Friday brought the yield back to 1.65%. And thus…

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The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial stock averages made new all time highs last week as bonds sold off, the 10 year Treasury note yield briefly breaking above 1.7% before a pretty good sized rally Friday brought the yield back to 1.65%. And thus we’re right back where we were at the end of March when the 10 year yield hit its high for the year. Or are we? Well, yes, the 10 year is back where it was but that doesn’t mean everything else is and, as you’ve probably guessed, they aren’t. In the early part of this year, the 10 year yield was rising as anticipation built for a surge in post vaccination economic growth. The 10 year yield rose about 85 basis points from the beginning of the year to the peak in late March. 10 year TIPS yields, meanwhile, were also rising, a little more than 50 basis points. There was agreement between the two that growth expectations were improving, inflation expectations rising a bit more than real growth expectations. The 10 year Treasury ended March right about where it was last Thursday, 1.7%. But there is considerably less agreement between the two markets now with the 10 year TIPS yield still 35 basis points lower (more negative) than the March peak.

So, no, things are not back where they were. The recent rise in nominal bond yields is much more about inflation fears than growth hopes. Markets provide us with a wealth of information that allows us, to some degree, to get inside the heads of investors. The changes in the bond markets recently show that investors have a very specific and nuanced view about the economy. They are certainly concerned about inflation and doing what people do when they are scared – trying to protect themselves. TIPS have been very popular of late for exactly that reason, as the inflation narrative gets louder and louder. But what is interesting is that, in a way, investors are taking the Fed at its word, that the inflation is transitory. The 5 year breakeven inflation rate hit 2.91% last week while the 10 year rose to 2.64%. But the 5 year, 5 year forward rate (5 year inflation expectations starting 5 years hence), has fallen over the last week to 2.37%. Investors think inflation will average nearly 3% over the next 5 years but less than 2.4% over the following 5. So investors do see inflation as transitory even if their definition of the term seems quite a bit different than the Fed’s.

Another big difference between now and March is the steepness of the yield curve. The 2 year note yield has been on a steep rise of late, up 140% since the beginning of September, with most of that coming in October. The 2 year rate roughly doubled in the early part of the year too but the absolute change was small because rates started so low. The recent change in the 2 year has been more rapid than the 10 and is being driven by expectations for Fed policy changes. The 10/2 curve was 1.58% at the end of March but just 1.18% today. The short term trend is still toward steeper but the climb has stalled a bit:

I interpret these changes in the obvious way. Nominal growth expectations are rising with most of the recent change focused on inflation but with some pickup in real growth expectations too. In addition, investors do not seem willing to believe yet that inflation is a long term problem. Given the high profile of the inflation narrative and the lack of much concrete evidence of a growth pickup, these changes seem perfectly rational and reasonable. I think it is important to note too that these changes in inflation expectations are small but also rapid. The 10 year breakeven rate is up about 65 basis points this year but over half of that has happened in the last month. The same is true for the 5 year breakeven rate. As for the change in real growth expectations I’d just say that it isn’t very impressive regardless of the rate of change. Unfortunately, that makes sense too since, as I discussed last week, we haven’t done anything to change the trajectory of either workforce or productivity growth. My long term expectation for growth hasn’t changed much since the first few months of COVID. We came into it with growth averaging roughly 2.2% over the previous decade. After adding a lot of debt to that economy during the pandemic my assumption is that, when things finally settle out from the virus and the response to it, economic growth will be lower. How much? I don’t know of any way to quantify that.

But that long term expectation is just that, long term. It doesn’t say anything about growth over the near term, the next 6 to 12 months. We’ll get a report on Q3 GDP next week and all indications are that it will be a pretty big fall off from the first half of the year. But anyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention knows that so it really won’t matter. Investors will be focused on the current quarter and the one after that. Will there be a reacceleration in growth as the delta variant fades? Will businesses be able to get goods for Christmas or will America get a lump of coal in its stocking? Or are we out of coal too? I don’t know but I do think we need to be careful about getting too negative about, at least, the immediate future. Inflation expectations can change rapidly while growth expectations take more time so TIPS and nominal yields are often on different songs, even if in the same hymnal.

I don’t generally put much emphasis on the PMIs or regional Fed surveys. They are basically sentiment surveys and rely on people’s anecdotal observations which, as we know, can be skewed for a whole host of reasons. But they can be interesting at turning points, inflection points, where sentiment does have a bearing on actions and ultimately the economy. While I don’t think we’re near a negative inflection point, the Philly Fed survey and the Markit PMIs do seem to point to a more positive near term outlook. The Philly Fed survey itself was down considerably from September but it is still higher than 3 months ago and the details hint at a near term pickup. The new orders index rose to 30.8 from 15.9, employment to 30.7 from 26.3. They also asked a special question about capital spending plans that showed expectations for increased spending in 5 of 6 categories for next year:

Of course, those expectations could change dramatically if Q4 turns out to be a bust but it is, for now, a positive indication for future growth.

The Markit PMIs also offered some near term optimism as the overall measure rose to 57.3 from 55 in September. That’s the best in 3 months with a sharp rise in service sector activity and a 3rd consecutive month of slowing in manufacturing activity (which is still at a high level). New orders in services rose at the fastest pace in 3 months. Job creation was the highest since June although companies still report having a hard time finding workers. All of this is perfectly consistent with the expectations for a growth resurgence post delta. Will those expectations be met? I don’t know obviously but if these expectations start to be met, we should see a response in the bond market with better balance between TIPS and nominal bonds.

There was also some potentially good news in the Census Bureau’s weekly household pulse survey which showed a big drop in people reporting not working.

Again, I don’t think we should put a lot of emphasis on these surveys. I’m always more interested in what people are doing rather than what they say they’re doing and especially what they say they intend to do. But these seem to be more significant changes than we’d normally see month to month.

We’re going through a bit of an inflation scare right now and we can see the changes in markets. They are fairly small changes though and they can, probably will, change again in coming weeks. Growth and inflation expectations are always changing as new information enters the market. Millions of investors speculate about how the future will look and their bets on that future move markets as new consensus expectations emerge. And the market changes that come from these new expectations also affect the economy in an ongoing feedback loop that changes expectations and markets again in a never ending search for equilibrium. The ebb and flow of the markets and the economy are intertwined, one influencing the other to produce the best prediction of the future we’ll ever get. Just don’t get too attached to that future because it can – and often does – change quickly.

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The economic environment is unchanged.

The trend in the nominal 10 year rate is obviously up

But we’re interested mostly in real growth expectations and TIPS yields are not in an uptrend yet:

The dollar remains in a short term uptrend but we are at a pretty obvious resistance point. In addition, the futures market shows a pretty strong preference by speculators for the long side of the dollar trade. So the short term trend may be running into some trouble and with real rates still flailing at low levels, I think that makes a lot of sense. The real long term trend of the dollar is no trend at all, still stuck in the middle of a 10% trading range that has prevailed for now 7 years:

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Despite my comments above about the Philly Fed survey and the Markit PMIs (not shown here), the economic data wasn’t that encouraging last week. Industrial production was down for the second straight month but there were a lot of caveats. Hurricane Ida is alleged to have taken 0.6% off the total and the auto industry is still flagging due to the chip shortage. Mining output (shale) was down, shocking exactly no one except maybe Joe Biden. On a more positive note, IP rose at a 4.3% annual rate in Q3, the fifth consecutive quarterly gain over 4%.

The Housing Market Index rose in September with single family especially strong. But the news on the new home front otherwise was not that great with starts and permits both down. Existing home sales did have a big rise but that was probably driven by rising mortgage rates.

 

A lot of data releases next week with GDP the highlight for most observers. The more important items will be the CFNAI to get an idea of how much we’ve slowed overall, durable goods orders and especially core capital goods orders, personal income and consumption and consumer sentiment.

 

 

We were reminded last week that US markets are still under the spell of speculators when a SPAC announced a deal with an entity associated with Donald Trump. Digital World Acquisition Corp. rose from $10 to, at one point, over $170 in two days of trading last week before settling the week up a mere 9 fold to $94.20. SPACs are Special Purpose Acquisition Corps or more commonly blank check companies. The fact that these companies with no business plan beyond a vague notion to purchase an operating company are so popular, is an indication by itself, of the speculative nature of these markets. But when a blank check company with no business plan acquires a shell company that consists of a powerpoint presentation and the stock has to come down to be up 9 fold in a couple of days, well, I think we’ve entered something beyond speculation. This is the post-modern economy where value is socially determined, reality is anything but objective, “where there are no hard distinctions between what is real and and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false”. It is an absurd world where the value of Donald Trump’s future social media empire is determined through the interactions of speculators on existing social media.

Back in the real world, stocks were up last week with the US continuing to outperform. Growth had a good week and the value/growth debate YTD now amounts to a draw. China rebounded last week as Evergrande made an interest payment and you may see a rebound in Chinese markets as people get comfortable with the heavier hand of the communist party. I’m going to have to miss that if it happens as I am decidedly not comfortable with China. There are other places in Asia that look a lot more attractive in my opinion, Japan prominent among them.

 

 

Real estate has recovered quickly and led last week but financials continue to perform well too. Healthcare had a good week after lagging recently.

With stocks near or at all time highs, it is easy to assume that means something about future economic growth. But stocks move based on expectations about future EPS growth which isn’t even close to the same thing. Last week’s move up in stock prices was more likely a consequence of the death of the corporate tax hike as the Biden economic plan continues to get pared down to something more manageable. The economy just isn’t the focus of stock investors right now but that could change if growth doesn’t pick up soon from the big Q3 slowdown. There is little evidence of that yet beyond the surveys I mentioned above so we won’t guess at the outcome. If real rates join nominal rates and start to rise more decisively, that will be a sign that we can be more optimistic. But we aren’t there yet.

Joe Calhoun

 

 

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