Gold Can’t Find A Bid : Barry Ridholtz

This article was published on The Big Picture Blog of Barry Ridholtz -July , 2015

It is well worth reviewing and keeping on hand:

 

This was the week Greece inched closest to chaos, as a bank holiday and a technical default caused markets around the world to erupt in turmoil. They recovered somewhat Tuesday, and futures looked stronger Wednesday morning, but on Monday, the NASDAQ Composite Index lost 2.4 percent, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 2.09 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.95 percent. Volatility exploded, as the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index surged 35 percent, its biggest increase in two years, to 18.85.

One would imagine that such a scenario might be constructive for gold. It has been called the best measure of fear, the only real currency, a refuge for those who plan for panic. So how is it doing these days? Spot prices were soft on Monday, despite the wild volatility in equities, drifting down a few bucks from about $1,180 an ounce to about $1,176. They fell a few dollars more yesterday, and are soft Wednesday.

I thought gold was an investor’s best friend during Armageddon.

I have kidded the goldbugs over the years, but the muted response to the latest crisis is surprising, even to a precious metal skeptic. Gold simply can’t find a bid.

This isn’t the sort of response we have come to expect from the “catastrophe metal.” Earlier this month, gold spiked to $1,202, from $1,172, raising hopes of a turnaround. The gold mavens began to dream of a new technical setup, perhaps even a resurrection of the currently deceased trend. There were renewed whispers about $5,000 price targets.

And then … nothing.

I have been writing critically about gold since it peaked in 2011. Its story has become an object lesson in how to manage your positions without letting emotion get the better of you.

Why is gold no longer responding to global catastrophes? Nobody knows for sure, but a few different theories might help to explain its behavior in the most recent crisis:

1) The old narrative has failed. Without a new and improved rationale, buyers aren’t motivated to accumulate more gold.

2) The U.S. economy has slowly improved, and much of the rest of the world is healing, too.

3) Other asset classes have been far more productive and rewarding investments in the last five years.

The failure of the classic gold narrative, recounted in great detail last year, is one explanation. The storyline was essentially a clever sales pitch filled with specific frightening details — the Fed was going to cause hyperinflation, the dollar would collapse, and so on. All of this proved to be false.

Further reducing enthusiasm for gold is the gradual improvement of the U.S. economy. Despite forecasts of imminent collapse, the major economic data — including employment, wages, spending, housing, autos and consumer sentiment — have all trended higher over the last five years. Tales of an impending depression were greatly exaggerated.

Then there are other asset classes. U.S stocks are up 167 percent over the last 5 years. China’s stock market, despite the recent 20 percent drop, is still up almost 10 percent for the year, and it has been on fire the last 2 years.

Each of these is a possible explanation for the lack of response to the Greek crisis. Perhaps a default to the International Monetary Fund is no big deal, and gold has no reason to rally.

Regardless, gold seems to going nowhere fast. Feel free to send me an e-mail explaining how wrong and stupid I am. I have an archive of all the messages warning me that gold would teach me a lesson in humility. “You’ll see” these e-mails smugly assure me, “your comeuppance will be here any day now.” My plan was to respond to each on its fifth-year anniversary with a chart showing the performance of gold versus all other asset classes and the details of how much money has been lost.

What once seemed like a snarky and amusing idea just looks cruel today.

Gold teaches the careful observer many lessons — about narratives, emotion, managing positions, leverage, one-way, can’t miss trades, the efficiency of markets, and story-tellers with product for sale. This is why you should never ever drink the Kool-Aid.

Astute traders ignore these lessons at their own risk.

 

Originally published as: Gold Shrugs Off Armageddon

“ The Gold Investor’s Handbook “ by Jack A. Bass, B.A. LL.B. ( available from Amazon)

 

 

Stress Testing Gold Miners / Sector Review As Gold Plunges :$1,100 Gold Is Critical

from Morgan Stanley

While the analysts expect gold will probably end up around $1,050, they do say an interest rate hike in the U.S., another correction in China’s stock market, and further selling of reserves by central banks could result in that worst-case scenario of $800 (and some very grumpy gold bugs).

Why the end of the era? Here’s what the analysts say:

But price stability in Precious Metals has ended. Indeed, gold and silver prices have been in trend decline since May. Why? The passing of deflation risk, anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s first interest rate hike, another debt resolution for Greece, and the collapse in China’s equity markets (prompting loss-covering asset sales) – have all hit these prices over 8-10 weeks. So the PBoC’s announcement last week, about China’s surprisingly low official gold holdings, was really just the latest in a string of bearish events. It’s possible that the next short-term driver in metal markets will be declining oil prices (WTI & Brent down 10-16% in 4 weeks).

 

from Royal Bank of Canada

July 21, 2015 Precious Metals & Minerals NA Gold & Silver Equities: Stress Testing the Balance Sheets (3) Equity value erodes below $1,100/oz. With gold having dipped below $1,100/oz and silver below $15.00/oz, we have once again run a balance sheet sensitivity analysis for the North American listed precious metal producers in our coverage universe over the H2/2015 to 2018 period. As highlighted in previous research, the difference for the equities in the current gold price sell-off, versus prior price declines, is that the precious metals producers now have significantly greater levels of debt (Exhibit 2).

In conclusion, the companies best positioned to operate in a $1,000/oz price environment are the royalty-streaming companies Franco-Nevada, Royal Gold, Silver Wheaton, and Osisko Gold Royalties.

The gold producers that are best positioned to withstand a sub-$1,100/oz gold price are Acacia, Alamos, Centamin, Fresnillo, Goldcorp, Goldfields, Klondex, Newmont, Randgold, SEMAFO, and Tahoe (Exhibit 1).

While a number of companies have already cut or eliminated their dividends, we believe Barrick, Centerra, Goldcorp, Goldfields, Pan American, and Yamana could reduce their dividends. Stress testing at lower gold prices after growth capital is frozen. Our base case is $1,100/oz gold & $14.50/oz silver with scenarios at $1,000/oz & $13.25/oz and $1,200/oz & $15.75/oz.

We provide a onepage summary for 35 gold producers (Page 5) that includes: (1) annual operating forecasts, liquidity estimates and key credit ratios; and (2) a discussion of our scenario analysis for each company. We assume that the companies do not draw down on their existing short-term credit facilities, as many banks are likely reviewing the credit risk of these facilities. We model similar levels of sustaining capital and assume that new mine development capital is suspended, with the exception of development capital that is more than 50% complete, such as Goldcorp’s Cochenour project and Eldorado’s Olympias and Skouries projects. Stress test highlights $1,100/oz as a critical level •

At $1,100/oz gold and $14.50/oz silver, the North American gold sector remains ex-growth. In addition to the cost-cutting measures that have occurred to date, producers will need to place their highercost mines in harvest and accelerated closure mode or on care and maintenance. We would expect to see a reduction in management and board compensation and the use of private aircraft travel curtained. And below $1,100/oz, we believe some companies could see their lines of credit reduced or withdrawn, and companies with elevated levels of debt may be forced to hedge revenues, sell streams on mining assets, and/or raise distressed equity.

At $1,100/oz, companies that would need to continue making cuts to discretionary and fixed costs to improve their balance sheets include AngloGold, Barrick Gold, Hochschild, IAMGOLD, Kinross, Pan American, Primero, Teranga, and Timmins. • At $1,000/oz gold and $13.25/oz silver, we would expect mine production to begin to contract as mines are placed on care and maintenance or moved into accelerated closure. In addition to the cost-cutting measures mentioned above, we believe a number of the gold producers would need to consider mergers to capture operating synergies or other financial benefits. At $1,000/oz, all of the gold/silver producers in our coverage universe would continue to make cuts to operating and discretionary costs and the most leveraged companies would seek alternative sources of equity. • At $1,200/oz gold and $15.75/oz silver, we believe most of the sector can sustain their current operating mines, but mines with AISC above $1,100/oz would likely go into “harvest mode” with significant development capital spending deferred. In addition, at $1,200/oz the producers can still implement cash-saving measures, with further cuts to G&A, exploration, and sustaining capital. Priced as of prior trading day’s

$1,100 gold is a critical level for North American precious metals companies

At $1,100/oz gold, most of the companies in our coverage universe are expected to continue to cut G&A, exploration, and sustaining capital spending. We could also see producers begin an accelerated closure process for their higher-cost, shorter-life mines by spending on reclamation rather than sustaining capital and mining out residual reserves over a 2- to 3- year period. Another alternative would be to place mines on care & maintenance, which would still require ongoing security/maintenance costs, although this would avoid burning cash for longer reserve life mines during a period of high sustaining capital spending associated with major waste stripping or underground development.

However, at or near $1,000/oz gold, we would expect companies to announce that their high-cost mines are being placed on accelerated closure, even mines that previously had long reserve lives given the potential for significant cash burn. We believe that most of the gold and silver producers in our coverage universe would struggle in a $1,000 gold environment if they do not defer discretionary costs, cut capital, and close cash-burning mines.

The companies that currently have the highest AISC costs include AngloGold, Centerra Gold, Detour Gold, IAMGOLD, Kinross, Newmont, Perseus, Pan American, Silver Standard, Teranga, and Timmins Gold. High-quality producers and royalty-streaming companies We believe the current gold price pullback presents an opportunity to buy gold mining equities with strong balance sheets that offer an attractive risk-reward.

In our view, in a sub- $1,100 gold price environment, the most resilient North American listed gold producers with solid yet flexible business plans and strong balance sheets would be Acacia, Alamos, Centamin, Fresnillo, Goldcorp, Goldfields, Klondex, Newmont, Randgold, SEMAFO, and Tahoe (Exhibit 1). These companies have low net debt, a low capital spending to cash flow ratio, and low-cost mines. The gold companies with the most robust business models and in a sharply lower gold price environment are the royalty and streaming companies, including Franco-Nevada, Royal Gold, Silver Wheaton, and Osisko, which have little or no debt and minimal operating and capital exposure. Exhibit 1: NA Precious Metal Producers leverage versus AISC margins clearly show

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Morgan Stanley Oil Warning: The Crash / Glut Continues

Morgan Stanley has been pretty pessimistic about oil prices in 2015,

drawing comparisons to the some of the worst oil slumps of the past three decades. The current downturn could even rival the iconic price crash of 1986, analysts had warned—but definitely no worse.

This week, a revision: It could be much worse

Until recently, confidence in a strong recovery for oil prices—and oil companies—had been pretty high, wrote analysts including Martijn Rats and Haythem Rashed, in a report to investors yesterday. That confidence was based on four premises, they said, and only three have proven true.

1. Demand will rise: Check 

In theory: The crash in prices that started a year ago should stimulate demand. Cheap oil means cheaper manufacturing, cheaper shipping, more summer road trips.

In practice: Despite a softening Chinese economy, global demand has indeed surged by about 1.6 million barrels a day over last year’s average, according to the report.

2. Spending on new oil will fall: Check 

In theory: Lower oil prices should force energy companies to cut spending on new oil supplies, and the cost of drilling and pumping should decline.

In practice: Sure enough, since October the number of rigs actively drilling for new oil around the world has declined by about 42 percent. More than 70,000 oil workers have lost their jobs globally, and in 2015 alone listed oil companies have cut about $129 billion in capital expenditures.

3. Stock prices remain low: Check 

In theory: While oil markets rebalance themselves, stock prices of oil companies should remain cheap, setting the stage for a strong rebound.

In practice: Yep. The oil majors are trading near 35-year lows, using two different methods of valuation.

4. Oil supply will drop: Uh-oh 

In theory: With strong demand for oil and less money for drilling and exploration, the global oil glut should diminish. Let the recovery commence.

In practice: The opposite has happened. While U.S. production has leveled off since June, OPEC has taken up the role of market spoiler.

OPEC Production Surges in 2015

Source: Morgan Stanley Research, Bloomberg

For now, Morgan Stanley is sticking with its original thesis that prices will improve, largely because OPEC doesn’t have much more spare capacity to fill and because oil stocks have already been hammered.

But another possibility is that the supply of new oil coming from outside the U.S. may continue to increase as sanctions against Iran dissolve and if the situation in Libya improves, the Morgan Stanley analysts said. U.S. production could also rise again. A recovery is less certain than it once was, and the slump could last for three years or more—”far worse than in 1986.”

“In that case,” they wrote, “there would be little in history that could be a guide” for what’s to come.

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Corporate stock buybacks put a floor under earnings ? Bloomberg

Wall Street analysts are gloomy about corporate performance in the second quarter, predicting that profits fell 6.5 percent. If companies weren’t buying so much of their own stock, the drop could be much worse: 9 percent. “It makes you rethink a lot of things,” says Kevin Mahn, president of Hennion & Walsh Asset Management. “We question how much earnings growth has taken place because of actual sales growth and consumer spending—and how much is attributable to buybacks.”

Corporations report profits as earnings per share (EPS). By reducing the number of shares outstanding, buybacks help increase a company’s EPS. The impact of buybacks was harder to see in the first three years of the bull market, when ballooning profit margins helped companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index almost double their earnings. Now that margin growth has flattened out, buybacks’ contribution is more significant. Companies in the S&P 500 bought more than $550 billion of their own stock last year, boosting EPS growth by 2.3 percentage points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The last time buybacks contributed as much to profits was in 2007, when companies spent the most ever on their own stock and enhanced that year’s increase in EPS by 3.1 percentage points. “Today the argument is buybacks are distorting the market, but I’m less certain,” says Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, which provides trading services to institutional investors. “To the extent companies have thought their shares are undervalued the past few years, buybacks have been a fair use.”

Buyback announcements so far in 2015 have already topped full-year totals for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012, and they’re on pace to reach an annual record of $993 billion, according to Birinyi Associates. AIG announced a $3.5 billion share repurchase plan in April, and in June, Wendy’s said it would buy $1.4 billion of its stock.

Some companies borrow money for share purchases. Over the three months through June 19, companies in the S&P 500 listed buybacks or dividends among the uses for $58 billion they raised in bond sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Sundial Capital Research.

Since 2009 companies have spent $2.4 trillion on buybacks, drawing criticism from politicians who say the companies should use the money to hire workers, pay them more, build plants, and fund research. In her economic policy speech on July 13, Hillary Clinton vowed to “propose reforms to help CEOs and shareholders alike focus on the next decade rather than just the next day, making sure stock buybacks aren’t being used only for an immediate boost in share prices.” Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to look into the practice, with Warren saying that buybacks “create a sugar high for the corporations.”

Wall Street has its own doubts about the tactic. Investing in people, facilities, and research arguably could have a much bigger long-term impact on a company’s bottom line—not to mention the entire economy—than a company taking advantage of low interest rates to borrow money to buy its own stock. That’s the reasoning behind a letter BlackRock Chief Executive Officer Laurence Fink sent in April to the CEOs of S&P 500 companies, arguing that their “duty of care and loyalty” should be to long-term owners instead of activists agitating for returning more cash to shareholders.

One reason buybacks are common is that U.S. companies have earned so much money in the past few years. Over the previous 12 months they’ve generated $1.1 trillion in profits—a sum that “cannot possibly be reinvested back” as capital spending or research and development, says Dubravko Lakos-Bujas, an equity strategist at JPMorgan Chase. “Cash flow generation for U.S. companies has been very robust, balance sheets have remained pretty healthy, and interest rates are still low,” he says. “With growth fairly anemic, it’s extra reason for buybacks.” Or as BTIG’s Greenhaus puts it, “Companies have to do something with their cash.”

When dividends are included, companies are returning about as much cash to shareholders as they have in the past. Added together and expressed as a proportion of stock prices, repurchases and other payouts total 4.3 percent—about the historical average, according to JPMorgan data.

Investors have shown that they approve of the tactic. Shares of the 100 companies that use the biggest portion of their cash on repurchases in 2014 have beaten those that spent more on plants and equipment, according to an April study by Barclays. Says Marshall Front, chief investment officer at Front Barnett Associates: “Corporations wouldn’t buy back as much of their stock if they could make a significant increase in earnings over the years through investment.”

The bottom line: Companies spent more than $550 billion on their own stock in 2014, boosting earnings by 2.3 percentage points.

What Does The Turmoil in Greece Mean for Your Money : Update

nn

UPDATE No Vote Pulls Ahead

Cash within the Greek banking system will run out in just a few short days, a senior banking source has told me, amid fears that the financial crisis will force Greek companies to start laying off workers on Monday.

“This is a fully fledged banking and economic crisis,” said the despairing source. “The rate of cash withdrawals has trebled in recent days, even with the limits.”

Since I arrived in Athens, I have witnessed Greeks queuing at those cash machines that are working, to withdraw the maximum amount of cash they’re allowed under the restrictions implemented last Monday.

“People are taking out money around the clock, out of ATMs, on the internet transferring to HSBC – you name it, they’re finding ingenious ways to get their savings.”

He added: “We desperately need a solution. It will not be long before our country is on its knees, with the damage so great that it will be permanent.”

After the referendum polls close tonight, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will meet bank bosses, grouped together under the auspices of the Hellenic Bank Association, and the governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras, I have learned.

All options currently remain open. Greece could do what Cyprus did: default on some of its debts while staying in the euro. Tsipras could decide to accept the tax increases and the pension cuts demanded by the creditors while receiving only minor and vague concessions on debt relief. Greece could have run out of money and be out of the euro within 24 hours.

Some things though are clear.

Firstly, the Greeks have said no to austerity rather than to membership of the euro. Tsipras does not have a mandate to bring back the drachma, even if that is where this all ends.

Secondly, the referendum result means both economic and political chaos. As Joan Hoey of the Economist Intelligence Unit put it even before the vote: “Greece is angry and fearful; divided and conflicted.”

Inevitably, Greece faces a fresh period of acute economic pain. It will take months, if not years, to recover from the events of the past week, even if there is a speedy resolution to the crisis. The Greek economy has already shrunk by a quarter in the past five years.

Thirdly, it is no longer possible to kick the can down the road. Any solution to the Greek crisis that involves more austerity without measures designed to get the economy growing again and to make the country’s debt sustainable will be a pyrrhic victory. The upshot would be a period of feeble growth and mounting indebtedness that would bring the possibility of Grexit back on the agenda. Sooner rather than later, in all likelihood.

Fourthly, this is the most serious crisis in the euro’s relatively short history. There have been confident pronouncements that Greece has been quarantined so that there will be no knock-on effects on the rest of the eurozone. Such sentiments will be tested to the full if there is a Grexit. Share prices will inevitably take a tumble when the financial markets open for business, but more attention should be paid to the bond yields – or interest rates – on the sovereign debt of other eurozone members seen as vulnerable.

The short-term problem for Merkel and Hollande is obvious. If they take a tough line in talks with Athens, they will get the blame for Greece’s departure from the single currency.

The longer-term problem is perhaps even more serious. Greece has highlighted the structural weaknesses of the euro, a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t suit such a diverse set of countries. One solution would be to create a fiscal union to run alongside monetary union, with one eurozone finance minister deciding tax and spending decisions for all 19 nations. This, though, requires the sort of solidarity notable by its absence in recent weeks. The European project has stalled.

So, this story is not over. In Homer’s epic tale, it took Odysseus 10 years to return to his Ithaca home from the Trojan war, losing all his men along the way. Greece’s modern odyssey, similarly, is only half over. The next chapter begins on Monday).

Expect lower stock prices.

Faced with an apocalyptic unemployment rate of 28%, voters in Greece have drawn the line on austerity measures that have mired the country in a crisis rivaling that of the Great Depression. In the worst case, the move could lead to Greece’s exit from the European monetary union. In the best case, it will produce much-needed debt relief for the country’s ailing economy. But either way, it’s prudent to assume the turmoil will roil equity markets both here and abroad.

The issue came to a head earlier this week when Greece’s “radical left” Syriza party won a plurality of votes in the latest election. Led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, Syriza campaigned on a platform to ease the “humiliation and suffering” caused by austerity. This includes debt relief and rolling back steep spending cuts enacted by Greece’s former government in exchange for financing from the International Monetary Union and other members of the European Union.

To say Greece has paid dearly for these cuts would be an understatement. The consensus among mainstream economists is that austerity during a time of crisis exacerbates the underlying issues. We saw this in Germany after World War I when France and Great Britain demanded it pay colossal war reparations. We saw it throughout Latin America following the IMF’s structural adjustments of the 1980s and 1990s. And we’re seeing it now in Greece and Spain, where unemployment has reached levels not seen in the developed world since the Great Depression.

The problem for Greece is that Germany and other fiscally conservative European countries aren’t sympathetic to its predicament. They see Greece’s travails as its just deserts. They see a fiscally irresponsible country that exploited its membership in the continent’s monetary union in order to borrow cheaply and spend extravagantly. And they see an electorate that isn’t willing to accept the consequences of its government’s actions.

To a certain extent, Greece’s critics are right. Over the last decade, its debt has ballooned. In 2004, the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio was 97%. Today, it is 175%. This is the heaviest debt load of any European country relative to output.

It accordingly follows that the European Union stands once again at the precipice of fracturing. If the Syriza party sticks to its demands and Greece’s neighbors won’t agree to relief, then one of the few options left on the table will be for Greece to exit the monetary union and abandon the euro. Doing so would free the country to pursue its own fiscal and monetary policies. It would also almost inevitably trigger a period of sharp inflation in a reinstituted drachma.

This isn’t to say global investors should be petrified at the prospect of even the most extreme scenario — that of Greece abandoning the euro. In essence, the euro is nothing more than a currency peg that fossilized the exchange rates between the continent’s currencies in 2001. By going off it, Greece would essentially be following in the footsteps of the Swiss National Bank, which recently unpegged the Swiss franc from the euro after a drop in the latter’s value made maintaining the peg prohibitively expensive.

A more complicated question revolves around the fate of Greece’s sovereign debt. Seceding from the monetary union won’t eliminate its obligations to creditors. It likely also won’t change the fact that the country’s debt is denominated in euros. Thus, if Greece were to exit the euro and experience rapid inflation, the burden of its interest payments would get worse, not better. This would make the prospect of default increasingly attractive if not necessary in order to reignite economic growth.

But investors have shouldered sovereign debt repeatedly since the birth of international bond markets. Just last year, Standard & Poor’s declared that Argentina had defaulted after missing a $539 million payment on $13 billion in restructured bonds — restructured, that is, following the nation’s 2002 default. Yet stocks ended the year up by 11.5%. The same thing happened when Russia defaulted in 1998. Despite triggering the failure of Long Term Capital Management, a highly leveraged hedge fund that was ultimately rescued by a consortium of Wall Street banks, stocks soared by 26.7% that year.

Given all this, the biggest impact on investors, particularly in the United States, is likely to make its way through the currency markets. When fear envelopes the globe, investors flee to safety. And in the currency markets, safety is synonymous with the U.S. dollar. Over the last year, for instance, speculation about quantitative easing by the European Central Bank, coupled with the scourge of low oil prices on energy-dependent economies such as Russia and Mexico, has increased the strength of the dollar. This will only grow more pronounced if the U.S. Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates later this year.

The net result is that American companies with significant international operations will struggle to grow their top and bottom lines. This is because a strong dollar makes American goods more expensive relative to competitors elsewhere. Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble PG 0.26% serves as a case in point. In the final three months of last year, P&G’s sales suffered a negative five percentage point impact from foreign exchange. As Chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley noted in Tuesday’s earnings release:

The October [to] December 2014 quarter was a challenging one with unprecedented currency devaluations. Virtually every currency in the world devalued versus the U.S. dollar, with the Russian Ruble leading the way. While we continue to make steady progress on the strategic transformation of the company — which focuses P&G on about a dozen core categories and 70 to 80 brands, on leading brand growth, on accelerating meaningful product innovation and increasing productivity savings — the considerable business portfolio, product innovation, and productivity progress was not enough to overcome foreign exchange.

With this in mind, it seems best to assume revenue and earnings at American companies will take a hit while Europe works toward a solution to Greece’s problems. In addition, as we’ve already started to see, the hit to earnings will be reflected in lower stock prices. There’s no way around this. But keep in mind that we’ve been through countless crises like this is in the past, and the stock market continues to reward long-term investors for their patience and perseverance.

More Limbo

“Irrespective of the referendum outcome, it is unlikely that there is an immediate resolution to the crisis the next day,” Marco Stringa, an economist at Deutsche Bank AG in London, wrote in a research note before the polls closed. “A ‘yes’ vote would be significantly more likely to lead to a quicker agreement with the creditors, but not without risks. Ultimately, the economic emergency will remain a key catalyst.”

A “yes” could force the end of the Tsipras government and fresh elections, a possibility to which Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis alluded on Thursday. A result so close that it’s inconclusive may only extend the current stalemate, which began when Tsipras called the surprise plebiscite on June 27.

Some Greeks are despairing of their country’s situation.

“This vote is a test of our collective IQ,” said Hara Nikolou, a retired biochemist who lives on the island of Serifos, before casting her “yes” vote. “If our society opts to turn this country into Balkan wasteland, I don’t want to continue living here.”

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Money Managers Brace for Bond-Market Collapse

TheNewBondMarket

 

 

TCW Group Inc. is taking the possibility of a bond-market selloff seriously.

So seriously that the Los Angeles-based money manager, which oversees almost $140 billion of U.S. debt, has been accumulating more and more cash in its credit funds, with the proportion rising to the highest since the 2008 crisis.

“We never realize what the tipping point is until after it happens,” said Jack A. Bass,  head of trading for Jack A. Bass and Associates. “We’re as defensive as we’ve been since pre-crisis.”

Bass isn’t alone: Bond funds are holding about 8 percent of their assets as cash-like securities, the highest proportion since at least 1999, according to FTN Financial, citing Investment Company Institute data.

Cudzil’s reasoning is that the Federal Reserve is moving toward its first interest-rate increase since 2006, and the end of record monetary stimulus will rattle the herds of investors who poured cash into risky debt to try and get some yield.

The shift in policy comes amid a global backdrop that’s not exactly rosy. The Chinese economy is slowing, the outlook for developing nations has grown cloudy, and the tone of Greece’s bailout talks changes daily.

Distorted Markets

Of course, U.S. central bankers are aiming to gently wean markets and companies off zero interest-rate policies. In their ideal scenario, borrowing costs would rise slowly and steadily, debt investors would calmly absorb losses and corporate America would easily adjust to debt that’s a little less cheap amid an improving economy.

That outcome seems less and less likely to Cudzil, as volatility in the bond market climbs.

“If you distort markets for long periods of time and then you remove those distortions, you’re subject to unanticipated volatility,” said Cudzil, who traded high-yield bonds at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank AG . He declined to specify the exact amount of cash he’s holding in the funds he runs.

Price swings will also likely be magnified by investors’ inability to quickly trade bonds, he said. New regulations have made it less profitable for banks to grease the wheels of markets that are traded over the counter and, as a result, they’re devoting fewer traders and money to the operations.

To boot, record-low yields have prompted investors to pile into the same types of risky investors — so it may be even more painful to get out with few potential buyers able to absorb mass selling.

“We think the market’s telling you to upgrade your portfolio,” Bass said. “Whether it happens tomorrow or in six months, do you want look silly before the market sells off or after?”

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Stock Market Top ? : The Q Ratio Indicator Says Watch Out Below

 

If you sold every share of every company in the U.S. and used the money to buy up all the factories, machines and inventory, you’d have some cash left over. That, in a nutshell, is the math behind a bear case on equities that says prices have outrun reality.

The concept is embodied in a measure known as the Q ratio developed by James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale University who died in 2002. According to Tobin’s Q, equities in the U.S. are valued about 10 percent above the cost of replacing their underlying assets — higher than any time other than the Internet bubble and the 1929 peak.

Valuation tools are being dusted off around Wall Street as investors assess the staying power of the bull market that is now the second longest in 60 years. To Andrew Smithers, the 77-year-old former head of SG Warburg’s investment arm, the Q ratio is an indicator whose time has come because it illuminates distortions caused by quantitative easing.

“QE is a very dangerous policy, in my view, because it has pushed asset prices up and high asset prices, we know from history, are very dangerous,” Smithers, founder of Smithers & Co. in London, said in a phone interview. “It is very strongly indicated by reliable measures that we’re looking at a stock market which is something like 80 percent over-priced.”

Dissenting Views

Acceptance of Tobin’s theory is at best uneven, with investors such as Laszlo Birinyi saying the ratio is useless as a signal because it would have kept you out of a bull market that has added $17 trillion to share values. Others see its meaning debased in an economy whose reliance on manufacturing is nothing like it used to be.

Futures on the S&P 500 expiring next month slipped 0.1 percent at 9:36 a.m. in London.

To Smithers, the ratio’s doubling since 2009 to 1.10 is a symptom of companies diverting money from their businesses to the stock market, choosing buybacks over capital spending. Six years of zero-percent interest rates have similarly driven investors into riskier things like equities, elevating the paper value of assets over their tangible worth, he said.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index members last year spent about 95 percent of their profits on buybacks and dividends, with stock repurchases exceeding $2 trillion since 2009, data compiled by S&P Dow Jones Indices show.

In the first four months of this year, almost $400 billion of buybacks were announced, with February, March and April ranking as three of the four busiest months ever, according to data compiled by Birinyi Associates Inc.

Slow Spending

Spending by companies on plants and equipment is lagging behind. While capital investment also rose to a record in 2014, its growth was 11 percent over the last two years, versus 45 percent in buybacks, data compiled by Barclays Plc show.

With equity prices surging and investment growth failing to keep pace, the Q ratio has risen to 58 percent above its average of 0.70 since 1900, according to data compiled by Birinyi and the Federal Reserve on market and asset values for non-financial companies. Readings above 1 are considered by some to be too high and the ratio has exceeded that threshold only 12 percent of the time, mostly between 1995 to 2001.

That’s nothing to be alarmed about because the American economy has become more oriented around services than manufacturing, according to George Pearkes, an analyst at Harrison, New York-based Bespoke Investment Group LLC. Nowadays, companies like Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. dominate growth, while decades ago, it was railroads and steelmakers, which rely heavily on capital.

Mean Reversion

“Does that necessarily mean that the Q ratio should be as high as it is right now? I don’t know,” Pearkes said by phone. “With those sorts of long-term indicators, they can sometimes mean that the market is overvalued. But the reversion to the mean on them is usually going to take a lot longer than most people’s time frame.”

Any investors who based their investment decisions on the Q ratio would have missed most of the rally since 2009, according to Jeffrey Yale Rubin, director of research at Birinyi’s firm. The measure rose above its historic mean three months into this bull market and since then, the S&P 500 has climbed 131 percent.

“The issue we have with Tobin Q is that it does a very poor job at timing the market,” Rubin said from Westport, Connecticut. “The followers of Tobin Q never told us to buy in 2009, yet now we are warned that we should sell. Our response is sell what? We were never told to buy.”

Bond Yields

Everyone from Janet Yellen to Warren Buffett has spoken cautiously on stock valuations in the past month. Both the Fed chair and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said prices are at risk of getting stretched should bond yields increase. The rate on 10-year Treasuries slipped last week to 2.14 percent while the S&P 500 gained 0.3 percent.

“It’s probably a sensible configuration for the stock market to be overvalued because competing investments are so poor,” Robert Brusca, president of Fact & Opinion Economics in New York, said by phone. “As an investor, you’re not just looking at the value of the firm, but the value of the firm relative to other things you can do with your money.”

At 2,260 days, the bull market that began in March 2009 this month exceeded the 1974-1980 rally as the second longest since 1956. While measures such as price-to-earnings ratios are holding just above historical averages, the bull market’s duration is sowing anxiety among professionals who watched the previous two end in catastrophe.

“We’re still close enough to that prior experience and that hold-over effect is still there,” Chris Bouffard, chief investment officer who oversees more than $10 billion at Mutual Fund Store in Overland Park, Kansas, said by phone. “When you start to see prior cycle peaks on the chart like Tobin Q and any other valuation metrics that people are putting up there, it looks dramatic, stark and scary.”

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