Long-time readers will be familiar with Michael Lewitt, one of my favorite thinkers and analysts. He has gone off on his own to write his letter, and I am encouraging him to write even more. I call Michael a thinker because he really does. He reads a lot of thought-provoking tomes and then thinks about them. And then writes, making his readers think. The world needs more Michael Lewitts.
Today, he roams the world, commenting as he goes, starting of course with Europe. I have permission to use the first half of this most recent letter as today’s Outside the Box, leaving off the investment recommendations that he shares with his subscribers. If you are interested you can subscribe at www.thecreditstrategist.com.
I am back from the Kilkenomics Economics Festival in Ireland, where there was a lot of attendee angst about their banks. They are not happy about taking on private debt with public money, and the mood in Ireland is to tell the ECB to take their debt and (insert your favorite personal expletive). Clearly, the rest of Europe wants the Irish to pay.
I told them to be patient. When the rest of European banks are upside down sometime next year and France, Spain, et al. have to pay, the mood among voters everywhere will be quite different. I said they could probably default on their bank debt at that point and no one would notice, amidst the massive debts that are going to implode on the Continent. My remarks excited a measure of schadenfreude-tinged laughter from the crowd.
Michael Lewitt agrees. Noting this interview with Oliver Sarkozy, the half-brother of France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, he says:
“Institutional funding has a three-year average life, so European banks need to generate more than $800 billion each month to fund maturing institutional borrowings. This is, in Mr. Sarkozy’s words, unsustainable. And the markets are saying so. The CDS market for European banks is back at or above the peak levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis. While Mr. Sarkozy does not come out and say it, TCS will – the likely future for European banks is Dexia SA, which was nationalized by France and Belgium when it ran aground a couple of weeks ago.”
I will write more about what I learned in Kilkenny later this week, but Europe is getting ever closer to imploding, one way or another. There is no end of problems for the markets to focus on. I can only hope that we in the US will observe the increasingly sad state of affairs in Europe and become sufficiently motivated to fix our own problems. If we do not, we will end up in an even worse condition, which will then be worse for the entire world. I remain somewhat optimistic that we will fix what ails us, as not doing so is just too horrible to contemplate.
On that bright note, have a great week. I am off to Atlanta tomorrow and then DC this Sunday, and then home for a few months (more or less).
Your seeing too much to worry about analyst,
This week's writer of the Outside the Box is no stranger to long time readers. Michael Lewitt writes the HCM Market Letter and is one of my favorite writers and truly deep thinkers. He has recently decided to turn his letter into a subscription based model and is meeting with some success, as he should. So, sadly, he will no longer be a regular feature of OTB, but he did allow me to use the current letter, as I think it is one of his more provocative letters.
This is a piece you want to think through. Michael discusses the continuing series of bailouts, the consequences of the stimulus package, the various policy options and the likely response of the economy to all of the above. Plus he makes a few market calls and some interesting observations. I am truly pleased to be able to send this to you.
The purpose of Outside the Box is to present views which cause us to think through our basic assumptions. This week our old friend Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management gives us a view as to why the bailout bill going down may not be as bad as I think it might. There is much we agree on, however. And part of our agreement is that a deeper recession is in our future. Let me be clear. Muddle Through is now at risk.
I have talked with my publisher, and for the next few weeks of The continuing Crisis, we are going to send more than one OTB per week, and I may also add some short commentary. These are extraordinary times, and I know a lot of you (as I can tell from phone and emails) are worried and are interested in analysis that is not biased with either a perma-bull or perma-bear stance. I will call it as I see it, as always, and forward you material from my best sources.
That being said, we will get through this, one way or another. Sanity and clarity will return, as it always does after times of crisis. I wish you the best in your situation.
The weekend has brought us events that can only be described in large, over-the-top terms. The Fed agreeing to take equity on its balance sheet? How bad can things really be? Clearly much worse than most people thought last Friday. Moral Hazard has been re-introduced as Lehman is allowed to go down. I will admit to being surprised. I thought Paulson and Bernanke would put it in the too big too fail category. I think they did the right thing by refusing taxpayer money for a bailout, but it is clearly going to roil the credit markets for weeks and months. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
I am in La Jolla today, working with my partners at Altegris, and looking over their shoulders while they monitor the performance of some of our managers. Interesting times. But I have had the time to read two short but very interesting commentaries on the current crisis. I will have more to say on Friday, but for now let's read old friends (to Outside the Box readers) Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management (www.hcmmarketletter.com) and Barry Ritholtz of Fusion IQ (www.fusioniqrank.com).
As I send this, credit default swaps spreads are simply blowing out. I have been writing about how we would see significant problems in the CDS markets for almost two years. This is something that you could see coming yet nothing was done. I know we are now in crisis, but let's hope that the authorities learn some lessons and put in place some sensible regulations of the CDS market soon. And for the love of Pete (insert your favorite expletive here) put these (more expletives) things on a regulated exchange.
And I agree with Michael below. This is not a time to try and catch a falling knife. That time will come, but not yet. And remember things will get better and we will get through this. As I just said to Barry, "We do live in interesting times."
What a momentous weekend. I was pounding the table about the need to move quickly on Fannie and Freddie in my last few letters, and especially this last letter. And then they did it. There are a lot of details that have yet to come out, and it is likely to be far more expensive the Savings and Loan crisis was for the US taxpayer, but it did get done. Hopefully, we can get some real regulation for part of our costs, as well as get rid of the implicit guarantees by US taxpayers so that something like this never happens again. The fact that it did was the fault of the regulatory environment and Congress. They fired the heads of Fannie and Freddie (with multi-million dollar parting gifts), but sadly, the truly responsible parties will be re-elected to perpetrate yet more frauds.
This week in Outside the Box we will look at two essays, one by Paul McCulley, Managing Director of PIMCO (www.pimco.com). The second is a quick shot by Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management on the Freddie and Fannie nationalization (www.hcmmarketletter.com). They both make points that there is a lot of work still to be done by the authorities. This crisis is not over...
And on that note, I agree with this paragraph from Greg Weldon:
"There is talk that yesterday's 'event' signals an end to the credit crisis ... nothing could be further from the truth. The take over of Fannie and Freddie implies that the credit contraction continues to INTENSIFY, as the government will likely NOT ... EXPAND ... the balance sheets of these two entities. More importantly, the take-over does NOTHING in terms of bank lending standards, which continue to tighten. Nor does it do anything for Ma and Pa Kettle, as it relates to their ability to continue to take on more debt, which continues to worsen in line with intensifying erosion in the housing market and the labor market as was WELL EVIDENCED by ALL the macro-data released last week ... and the horrific labor market report. Indeed, today's markets move might provide the best "FADE" opportunity of the year!!!"
And Now, on to the essays by Paul and Michael.
This week in Outside the Box we take up a topic that should be on the top of the agenda of every regulatory authority, executives at financial services firms of all types, and average investors: How do we fix the credit markets to make sure we do not have such a crisis again? Good friend Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management gives us his observations, some of which go further than I would personally like to see us go. But this is the conversation that must happen if we are to steer clear of future crises. It is clear to me now that a laissez faire approach to regulating certain financial instruments exposes the entire economy to risks much larger than the loss of a business here or there. While better disclosure is certainly appropriate, it is not enough.
I think that we should seriously consider having an exchange for credit default swaps and other similar OTC derivatives. If Bear Stearns is deemed too big to fail because of the extent of its CDS book, and taxpayers are put at risk in a bailout, which I agree was necessary, then rules must limit taxpayer exposure. Having futures and options trade on an exchange certainly hasn't limited commerce or restrained business, and with instantaneous execution and inexpensive transactions there is little friction from using an exchange.
Getting the rules right in the future is going to be difficult and contentious. But it is something we must begin to do as soon as possible. The footnotes that Michael uses are at the end.
This week we will look at what will be a fairly controversial essay by good friend Michael Lewitt of HCM. In light of today's speech by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson of the re-organization of the regulatory system in the US, Michael suggest we look at what the real problems are before we begin the process of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. For many, some of what he says will be considered economic heresy. I do not agree with all of it (though I am in solid agreement on most of it), and look forward to talking with him in a few weeks in La Jolla when we are together. But the point of Outside the Box is not to find material that I or you agree with or that makes us comfortable, but something which causes us to think through our own opinions and biases.
But this is a debate that absolutely must happen if we are to move forward and away from the current crisis and to somehow see if we can avoid yet another crisis in five years. Simply adding new regulations without changing the incentive nature of the markets will not fix the things that really matter. None of us should cry when some fund that is leveraged 30 to 1 goes down and investors get wiped out. What were they thinking anyway? But when a fund or investment bank is so big that its demise threatens the system that we participate in, something is wrong in the way our society manages risk. Simply bailing out big banks is not an adequate regulatory response. While it may work for the immediate moment, it does not solve the longer term issues.
Please feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think should be part of that debate process.
This week's Outside the Box is going to be a little different. I am going to write about the extraordinary action by the NY Fed to foster the Bear Stearns deal with JP Morgan, and give you three brief notes from Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital Management and Bob Eisenbeis (former executive vice-president of the Federal Reserve of Atlanta) of Cumberland Advisors.
This week in Outside the Box we bring you the text of a powerhouse speech by Michael E. Lewitt, made at the The Bank Credit Analyst Conference last week. We have been discussing the current market turmoil in our weekly letters for quite some time, addressing the adverse effects of CLOs, (collaterized loan obligations), CDOs, (collaterized debt obligations), SIVs, (Structured investment vehicles), what have you, outlining the how these products among others have been instrumental to the market decline.
Michael Lewitt strives to show that while the downturn is by no means negligible, it is not extreme and in certain segments of the market might have been driven by emotions and technical factors rather than by underlying weakness. The conclusion you might ask? Investment opportunity.
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.
Here is a different view on derivates that can help you with a basic understanding of the problem in the market and a look at gold. This comes from the HCM Market Letter by Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital in Florida.
This is a private letter for his clients and Michael is one smart guy with a deep understanding of the markets, especially the credit markets, and how they work. HCM deals in this world on a daily basis, so they can offer a somewhat inside view of derivatives and that is why it was picked for this week's Outside the Box.
Once again we take a look at some comments from the HCM Market Letter written by Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital in Florida. This is a private letter for his clients and we are excited to have permission to share it with you. Michael is one smart guy with a deep understanding of the markets, especially the credit markets, and how they work. The firm manages domestic and offshore debt and equity hedge funds and separate accounts.
I really look forward each month to getting Michael's insights. Michael recently traveled to Europe and Israel and offers some insights on global economic conditions. In classic economics the markets should be falling and interest rates spreads widening, but we currently see the opposite. Michael examines some of the market reactions and interest rate trends taking pace and that is why it was picked for this week's Outside the Box.
As long time readers know, I get a lot of newsletters sent to me from around the world. Many are from private sources. Among the best is the HCM Market Letter written by Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital in Florida. Michael is one smart guy with a deep understanding of the markets, especially the credit markets, and how they work. The firm manages domestic and offshore debt and equity hedge funds and separate accounts. I really look forward each month to getting Michael's insights. For this week's Outside the Box we will look at his letter from late last week which, given the continued drop in the dollar, is more pertinent than ever. He also touches on interest rates, the problems with Credit Default Swaps and oil. It is a wide-ranging essay and one that I think you will enjoy pondering.