Get ready for a September to remember.
--Steve Sabol, NFL Films
As the boys of summer prepare for the playoffs, hardcore fans around the land are readying for an entirely more violent collision.
With football season upon us, our collective attention now turns to the metaphorical line of scrimmage in the markets. Tensions are high and the stadium packed, for the winner of the September battle could run the schedule into year-end.
The Bears unleashed an all out blitz in July, only to be caught flat-footed by Washington offensive coordinator Hank Paulson. The crafty veteran is a master of market timing patterns and he shrewdly called plays designed to punish those who over-pursued the weak side.
Following a summer when headlines trumped tan lines, starters returned to their turrets this week with game faces affixed. With one month left in the quarter and four remaining in the year, they’ll leave it all on the field for fear that if they don’t perform, they won’t make the 2009 roster.
It’s been over a year since credit scars first emerged and they were quickly dismissed as non-relevant bruises rather than potentially career threatening injuries. As more and more players—and, in some cases, entire organizations—were carted off the field, it became increasingly obvious that the game was forever changed.
The sub-prime scare morphed into arguably the worst financial contagion in history, a cumulative comeuppance born on the back of the tech bubble and exponentially magnified by experimental engineering gone awry.
After years of giving the star market drugs with hopes of masking the underlying discomfort, it’s begun the unenviable yet unavoidable process of taking medicine through time and price. It’s not fun—and it will take years to fully flush through the system—but it’s a necessary evil that must be endured.
We’ve already discussed the primary time horizons with which to view financial markets and that remains a viable and valuable context to any conversation. To be sure, the destination we arrive at pales in comparison to the path that we take to get there.
Getting Credit When Credit's Due
We wrote about the potential for a rally into the election on July 16th. It was an unpopular, variant view at the time but higher lows have since been made and the trend—however ginger—is still in tact.
The twist to the current plot is the yawning disconnect between equity and credit markets. While the former storm has shown moxie in recent weeks, the latter matter is an entirely different category in terms of the potential implications.
Much has been written about the $230 billion in debt that is coming due in Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) by the end of the quarter. These two troubled institutions remain elephants in the room that won’t go away. Well then again, perhaps they will.
There was a brief celebratory spark in the media and markets early last week when Freddie successfully financed $2 billion. As Kevin Depew mentioned on Minyanville, however, it was akin to a man finding a quarter in his pocket on the way to bankruptcy court.
Assuming the debt of Government Sponsored Entities is backed—a virtual lock given the unsettling consequences that would occur if it weren’t—the resolution of their equity would have profound implications for global markets through the lens of the dollar.
But wait, there’s more.
Financial institutions have $871 billion in debt coming due into year-end.
If corporate America can successfully roll those obligations and buy more time, odds are we’ll see a sharp upside equity rally.
If, however, sufficient appetite doesn’t emerge for that credit, the potential exists for an unmitigated equity disaster.
The boys on the Beltway know this all too well and we should expect a wave of announcements in the coming months designed to spur the herd higher.
Therein lies the risk to downside bets, a coordinated agenda that is by design the recipe for a short-squeeze.
While stocks are the world’s biggest thermometers, however, credit markets are the backbone. As such, the end game of these agendas is to induce an appetite for credit so corporate America can effectively issue secondary—and in many cases, dilutive—offerings.
Thus far, the litany of conduits, discount windows and auction facilities hasn’t been able to do that. While they’ve kept stock markets afloat, credit spreads remain at levels last seen during Bear Stearns (JPMorgan (JPM)). I expect to see new “inventions” of financial engineering introduced with time.
You can call it socialism, manipulation, intervention or desperation but make no mistake, the mandate is to avoid the unthinkable—a stock market crash that sends an already fragile socioeconomic situation into a downside spiral that sucks the global capital market structure into an abyss.
Yes, it’s scary but pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.
A microcosm of this looming dynamic will be the surge in September credit issuance.
It’s critical—and I mean critical in the most profound possible way—that this debt to be absorbed by the marketplace or there will be a line outside the treasury longer than the Million Man March.
Risk appetites and social mood shape financial markets and the reaction to this September supply will reverberate around the world.
Lucidity is Your Friend
Minyanville has monitored these cumulative imbalances since 2006 and discussed The Writing on the Wall last summer.
To be sure, the credit crisis has already infected the economy, starting with the homebuilders, spreading to the financials, engulfing financials in drag such as General Electric (GE), General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) and will eventually phase through retail, technology, credit card companies and commodities.
That’s the orderly scenario, a stair-step through industries until debt is destroyed and a more sustainable economic foundation takes root. It’s akin to credit cancer and once it spreads through our entire financial body, we’ll be in a position to enjoy the globalization-themed “outside-in” recovery that awaits.
The other option is an outright car crash, a collision where credit seizes, capital markets freeze, price discovery permeates and social mood shifts as we come to terms with the new world order.
Neither of these options is something one would wish for but hope has never been a viable investment thesis. Indeed, my stylistic approach has always been to sell hope and buy despair.
By some measures, the gloom and doom is palpable. Through a short-term trading lens, that could prove bullish, particularly if credit markets improve.
Through a big-picture secular lens, however, denial is prevalent as most market prognosticators believe the worst is behind us. Heck, there are still debates about whether or not we’ll enter recession and that, in and of itself, is disturbing.
As the owner of a small business and someone who shares your journey through life, it’s my sincere wish that we’ll navigate these complex times and look back at this column as the turning point of a multi-year, economic expansion that benefits us all.
Until we’re able to view that process with the benefit of hindsight and a dose of humility, capital preservation, debt reduction and financial literacy remain core tenets of my particular approach.
May peace be with you.
Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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