Regular readers of Outside the Box will be familiar with Michael Lewitt's thoughtful commentary. Today, he reminds us that much of the turmoil we are in could have been avoided with proper regulatory structures and then does a very poignant analysis of various sectors of the economy. I agree with him that we have not seen the worst and that we will continue to see this mild recession/slow recovery for longer than we should without true structural reform.
On a side note, I will be on CNBC Tuesday morning at around 10:00 or 10:30 with Mark Haines and Erin Burnett, talking about commodity prices and regulation.
So without further ado, let's jump into today's Outside the Box.
This week we look at yet another rather obscure credit market that is in essential lockdown as the subject of your Outside the Box. My London partner Niels Jensen, head of Absolute Return Partners, has written a very interesting piece on the leveraged loan and bank loan markets, which are now upside down and getting more so in the recent weeks. This situation cannot continue, as what are clearly inferior products are selling for more than there high class cousins.
Essentially the sources that bought these loans such as SIVs and highly leveraged funds no longer exist to buy the loans. They have simply gone away and are not coming back. Because many of the funds are being would down through forced liquidations, senior secured loans are selling at a discount to high yield junk from the same company. Until the market digests this overhang, which will take months, Niels points out the opportunities in a distressed market. Like buying a home at auction, while it is not good for the person who lost his home, it means a buyer can get a better value.
I work closely with Niels for years and have found him to be one of the more savvy observers of the markets I know. You can see more of his work at www.arpllp.com. The numbered footnotes are at the end of the letter.)
The subprime problem, we were told, would not spread to other markets. It would be "contained." And it has, according to Jim Grant. He quipped last week that it has been contained on planet Earth. The risks coming from rising defaults in the US (now above 600,000 and rising from just 200,000 a few years ago) are clearly spreading to markets far beyond the subprime world.
This week's Outside the Box talks about the next two dominoes that could fall: junk bonds and counterparty risk in the various credit default swap markets. Ted Seides is the Director of Investments at Protégé Partners, LLC, a hybrid fund of funds that invests in and seeds small, specialized hedge funds. He writes this week's piece in Peter Bernstein's Economic and Portfolio Strategy, one of the most respected of market analysis letters. You can learn more about the letter at www.peterlbernsteininc.com.
This piece is a little longer than most letters, but it is one of the more important editions of Outside the Box this year. This is a must read. You absolutely need to understand the nature of the systemic risk we are facing, and Ted does a great job of explaining in very clear terms the nature of the risks that we have created din our modern markets. I have left the footnotes in, and they are at the end of the letter.
The credit markets are in turmoil. This week I have asked Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital in Florida to tell us what is going on from his perspective. Michael has been watching the credit markets from the inside for a long time. So, this week we have a sort of insider's Outside the Box.
Michael is one smart guy with a deep understanding of the markets, especially the credit markets, and how they work. I really look forward each month to getting Michael's insights. The firm manages domestic and offshore debt and equity hedge funds and separate accounts. This may get more technical for some readers, but keep reading, as you can get a sense of what we are really facing.
Who should we blame for the problems in the credit markets? This week in Outside the Box my good friend Barry Ritholtz takes on the task of pointing his prodigious finger at the guilty parties. As he notes, there is plenty of guilt to go around. This is a problem that is going to stay with us more than a few weeks. As I wrote last week, it is not a problem of liquidity. It is a problem of credibility. Until investors of all types feel safe getting back into the structured finance market water, US mortgages and all sorts of consumer finance are going to be severely hobbled. There is plenty of money on the sidelines, but it is going to take some work to make investors feel comfortable.
Part of that process is to figure out what went wrong and how do we avoid getting into this mess yet again? How do we restore credibility? I offer a few quick thoughts on this at the end of Barry's work. And if you have the time, you should click on some of the links Barry has to various research, especially the first link which shows that housing prices could easily drop 15% (or more in some of the bubble areas!).
Finally, I should note that I am going to be speaking yet again at the New Orleans Investment Conference (October 21-25, 2007). This is always one of the great investment conferences of the year. You can click here to learn more.
Will the market rebound this week or continue last week's slide? Will the credit markets stop their turmoil? These are all questions that investors are confronted with by the financial press. In today's "Outside the Box," we will focus our attention on a well-thought out piece by John Hussman, Ph.D. John is the President of Hussman Investment Trust where he manages the Hussman Strategic Total Return Fund - HSTRX and the Hussman Strategic Growth Fund - HSGFX.
In his Weekly Market Comment, John addresses the recent market volatility and puts it in historical perspective, comparing it in duration to that of previous market cycles. We have currently gone almost 1200 days without a 10% correction, the second longest such period on record.
So, how does a money manager with these views cope in today's market? I keep John's comments about what he is doing in his fund so you can see what this highly regarded professional to hedge his bets. I think you will find what he is doing to be instructive.
While most investors continue to watch their streaming ticker for new record highs, we are patiently waiting for the raw data to form our investment decisions. I believe you find this commentary to be both valuable and "outside the box."
One of my favorite economists, Paul Kasriel, wrote an excellent article last Friday in his weekly commentary, "The Econtrarian." Not only is it a great "outside the box" analysis but it also follows up to and illustrates several points that I made in my latest e-Letter, "Party Like It's 1999."
At Northern Trust, Paul is the Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research, responsible for producing the Corporation's economic and interest rate forecasts. He is also the recipient of the 2006 Lawrence R. Klein Award for Blue Chip Forecasting Accuracy.
His article "Festivus Flow-of-Funds Stocking Stuffers," offers us some insight into consumer debt and savings. He further goes on to discuss the trends in both consumer and corporate borrowing (and I should note that he provides some excellent data on both).
I believe you will enjoy Paul's analysis and find it to be both insightful and "Outside the Box."