Category Archives: Economy and Meltdown

Knight's Berserk Algo Bought $2.6 Million Worth Of Stock Every Second


While we already presented, courtesy of Nanex, the modus operandi of the Knight berserker algo, there was one outstanding question. What was the bottom line. And no, not how much the loss on Knight’s Income Statement would be as a result of this glimpse into what really happens in the market: we already knew that would be $440 million. The question is what is the notional amount of stock that this algo bought in the 45 minutes in which it was operational. We now know: $7 billion. Or $155 million per minute. Or $2.6 million per second. Or, assuming the algo impacted just 150 stocks as previously reported, it was buying on average $17,333 in each name every second. Or, assuming an average stock price of the universe of 150 stocks of $30/share, the Knight algo lifted the offer roughly 600 times each second. For 45 minutes straight! That’s right – the market making algorithm of a designated market maker which is responsible for 10% of the order flow in the US stock market, entered a pre-programmed mode (because the computer was told to do whatever it did by someone, and not without reason) that saw it buy up $2.6 million worth of stock every second.

Now there has long been speculation that HFTs are a central planner’s best friend because they traditionally provide not only a floor to the stock market, but a gradual levitation bias especially in a low volume environment (as well as liquidity its advocates claim, but that is total BS – HFT only provides volume and churn – liquidity disappears at the drop of a bat when real selling pressure appears). They do this not because they are evil instruments of Bernanke collusion (although who knows) but simply because they accelerate and accentuate legacy momentum bias, which at least historically, has been up. Now in the aftermath of the Knight debacle we can also extrapolate what would happen if, say, reality were to creep in one day, and all those mutual and hedge funds which have carbon-based life forms making the buy and sell decisions suddenly decided to sell. Well, at $7 billion in 45 minutes, or 1/10th of the trading day, this means that had the Knight algo been running all day, it could have bought $70 billion worth of stock. Throw in the remaining flow routers, aka DMMs in the market which account for the remaining 90% of order flow, and we get a total of $700 billion in vacuum tube mediated purchasing power.

In other words, this is the market “worst case” shock absorber, or inverse escape velocity, that Bernanke has at his disposal if things turn sour. That said, with hedge funds, aka fast money, holding about $3 trillion in unlevered assets, and about $6-9 trillion with leverage (ignoring plain vanilla slow mutual funds), and one can see why not even the HFT levitation bid would be sufficient to offset a wholesale market dump.

There is one last open question remaining on Knight: what discount did Goldman extract out of the firm to rid it of its residual position which as the WSj explains declined slightly from its peak as “traders worked frantically Aug. 1 to sell shares while trying to minimize losses due to a software problem, ultimately paring the total position to about $4.6 billion by the end of the trading day” (one wonders if the market would have just blown up if the Knight algo were to run in reverse, and just take out layer after layer of bids to unwind the inventory asap). We now know thanks to the WSJ:

Knight avoided that scenario by agreeing in the early morning hours last Thursday to sell the portfolio to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.,  after rejecting an offer from UBS.

 

The terms sought by the banks reflected how dire Knight’s situation was: UBS wanted an 8% to 9% discount on the position, according to people familiar with the matter.

 

The equities trading desk at UBS, headed by Mike Stewart, bid for the portfolio around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, people familiar with the discussions said. Mr. Stewart was a former colleague of Knight Chief Executive Thomas Joyce’s at Merrill Lynch. The talks with UBS fell apart later that night.

 

Goldman ultimately negotiated buying the portfolio at a 5% discount, or about $230 million less than the value of the stocks, the people said. That amount, not previously reported, represents more than half the loss Knight disclosed on Thursday that it incurred as a result of the technology errors.

 

The deal with Goldman allowed Knight to move ahead. Last weekend, Knight negotiated a rescue package with six financial firms that injected $400 million in capital in exchange for securities that can convert to ownership of 73% of the trading firm.

And now you know why having cash on your balance sheet in a ZIRP environment may well be the best investment, because just like Goldman, one never knows just where a slam dunk distressed opportunity could come from in exchange for an immediate 5% pick up.

More importantly, the Goldman deal demonstrates what the true liquidity cost in the market is when one wishes to do a wholesale stock transaction (either BWIC or OWIC): it is not less than 5% and tops out at 9%.

Keep that in mind, because if and when the day when VWAPing in and out of positions is no longer possible, each and every fund will have no choice but to assume a guaranteed 5% minimum (up to 9%) haircut on one’s entire portfolio of allegedly liquid stocks.

We dread to think what the wholesale implied liquidity premium is on less liquid products than stocks, which nowadays is virtually everything…

* * *

Finally, we leave readers with yet another transformative animation from Nanex, after our first rendition of the “rise of the machines” back in February left many speechless, and which recently appears to have been rediscovered by some of the slower elements in the blogosphere. Why: because it’s pretty, and we feel like it. And because it once again confirms that only vacuum tubes with infinite balance sheets should be gambling in this loaded market.

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Bernanke Just Assured That The Student Loan Bubble Will Be The Next "Financial Stability Issue"


“At this juncture . . . the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime markets seems likely to be contained” – Ben Bernanke, March 28, 2007

“I don’t think student loans are a financial stability issue to the same extent that, say, mortgage debt was in the last crisis because most of it is held not by financial institutions but by the federal government” – Ben Bernanke, August 7, 2012

 

Please mark your calendars accordingly as yesterday the Chairman just guaranteed that student loans will be cause for the next “financial stability issue.”

Here are the facts, courtesy of a just released expose on the WSJ:

  • Rising college costs and a sagging economy are taking the biggest toll on a surprising group: upper-middle-income families.
  • According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of recently released Federal Reserve data, households with annual incomes of $94,535 to $205,335 saw the biggest jump in the percentage with student-loan debt from 2007 to 2010, the latest figures available. That group also saw a sharp climb in the amount of debt owed on average.
  • Ms. Hofmeister, an insurance broker and financial planner, says she and her husband, an operations manager, combined earn a six-figure income that puts them in the upper-middle class and were surprised by the amount they will have to borrow. She says she feels trapped in financial purgatory, between “people with lower incomes who have a lot of subsidy, and the truly affluent, for whom this isn’t a problem.”
  • The Journal’s analysis defined upper-middle-income households as those with annual incomes between the 80th and 95th percentiles of all households nationwide. Among this group, 25.6% had student-loan debt in 2010, up from 19.5% in 2007. For all households, the portion with student loan debt rose to 19.1% in 2010 from 15.2% in 2007.
  • The amount borrowed by upper-middle-income families, meanwhile, has soared. They owed an average of $32,869 in college loans in 2010, up from $26,639 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Journal’s analysis.
  • The typical low-income family receives grants and scholarships totaling 36% of the cost, the lender says, while for higher-income families such packages total 21%.
  • More than three million households now owe at least $50,000 in student loans, up from about 794,000 in 2001 and fewer than 300,000 in 1989, after adjusting for inflation.
  • Some families are turning to loans because they spent heavily or used extra cash to save for retirement. More than one-third of parents with incomes of $95,000 to $125,000 with a child who entered college in 2011 didn’t save or invest for that child’s education, according to a survey by education consultants Human Capital Research.
  • With their finances strained, some higher-earning parents are making their children pick up more of the tab. Among families earning $100,000 or more, students paid 23% of their college costs in 2012 through loans, income and savings, according to Sallie Mae, up from 14% in 2009; the share covered by parents fell to 52% from 61%.

And last but not least, those ever-altruistic baby boomers:

The boomers are the first generation shifting the cost of college to their kids,” both through increased student borrowing and reduced taxpayer support for higher education, says Susan Dynarski, a professor of education and public policy at the University of Michigan.

Because leaving them with $16 trillion in public debt is not enough.

* * *

Here is the issue in a nutshell: college tuition, just like government spending, is off the charts. Both are so high, that on an unlevered basis, the payback rate is N/M. Note the use of the world “unlevered” as it is one which will never occur, before the next systemic reset, when talking about anything involving the government. And what leverage does is mask true supply and demand. If college tuition was representative of real supply and demand, prices would be tumbling on average. Instead the easy access to student debt makes college seem quite affordable at any price point and thus there is no pressure to lower the equilibrium price. Which explains this chart, where the government-funded student debt surge is merely there to fill the needs of all those kids going to college, all of whom will never be able to pay it off especially as America increasingly transitions to a part-time worker society.

But at least they too, like their parents and grandparents, are indentured debt servants, just like the government wants.

And to the perpetually wrong Bernanke, the thinking is that if more people are on the same wavelength as the US Treasury, i.e., so deeply in debt that everyone will be begging for a dollar devaluation and/or debt hyperinflation, then the Fed will be not only able, but encouraged to debase the US currency at will.

Sadly, Bernanke is and always has been wrong, and when the student loan bubble does pop, and it will, the cost will once again fall squarely on the shoulders of that one nearly extinct species: America’s middle class, which not only generates positive cash flow, but, gasp, saves a little money here and there.

Make no mistake: they are squarely in Bernanke’s bulls eye, and are slated for extermination at all costs. In a world in which everyone is broke and defecting from every game theory equilibrium possible, those who still play by the rules are the system’s mortal enemies.

In the meantime, we can’t wait for Obama’s next brilliant contraption: cash for flunkers.

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From Occupying Wall Street To "Dying For Work"?


Imagine you are driving to work this morning in Las Vegas (yes, you are one of the select few locals who has a job that does not involve relying on the strip’s ever declining gambling revenues or flipping a house to John Paulson in the second, and far shorter, coming of the regional housing bubble, with poppage imminent), and you observe what appears to be a man who hung himself below a billboard saying “Dying for Work.”

Confused, you continue, only to drive by another billboard with what seem to be a man hanging off, this one saying “Hope you’re happy Wall St.

Slowly it all clicks: the man is not real, and this is not a suicide done in protest by some depressed unemployed person, instead it is merely a mannequin, part of some grotesque attempt at a statement. Would this be considered shocking, and will the thousands of commuters who saw this feel any worse or better toward Wall Street and its denizens – America’s bankers – having seen this, or will they merely continue with their lives?

What if the dummy was a real person? And is this merely a foreshadowing of things to come in a country in which class warfare has not been as violent in decades if not centuries, and in which the divide between the haves and the have nots has never been as wide?

And what happens when the next such “stunt” involves a real person – perhaps someone depressed enough to copycat what they saw on the 5 o’clock news? More importantly, what happens if a depressed jobless person takes their life but first takes out some of those he thinks are responsible for his plight – say Wall Streeters?

What happens then?

We don’t know, but sadly we, as well as everyone else, may find out very soon.

What we do know is what happened today. From the AP:

Even by Las Vegas standards, it was a shocking billboard: A mannequin dangling on a hangman’s noose below a black sign with the ominous words “Dying for Work.”

 

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeremie Elliott says the 911 calls started coming in as the sun came up early Wednesday, with drivers worried the stiff, black-suited dummy swaying at the end of a rope along Interstate 15 near Bonanza Road was a real person.

 

“It’s a publicity stunt, obviously done in bad taste,” said Elliott, adding that officials were focused on getting it down quickly to avoid distracting drivers during the morning commute.

The graphic display along the interstate was one of at least two unauthorized signs spotted Wednesday morning in the Las Vegas area. Another found on Highland Avenue and Desert Inn Road was white with black lettering that read, “Hope You’re Happy Wall St.,” and a similar mannequin hanging off the edge.

 

A woman who answered the phone at Lamar Advertising Co., which owns one of the billboards, labeled the act vandalism and said the display was being removed. She did not provide her name.

 

Clear Channel Outdoor, which owns another sign that was affected, said they pulled the display immediately and plan to work with law enforcement to punish whoever is responsible.

 

“We condemn the destructive behavior against one of our billboards because it is illegal and punishes our advertisers,” Clear Channel Outdoor spokesman Jim Cullinan said in a statement. “This is not an innocent protest, but it is illegal and dangerous behavior that Clear Channel Outdoor and the industry will not accept.”

Not everyone is filled with remorse over this act:

While nobody has publicly claimed responsibility for the signs, the Occupy Las Vegas group, which is affiliated with the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, posted photos of the displays on its website. Its caption says the Nevada governor’s budget has slashed social programs and aid to suicidal adults.

 

Sebring Frehner, an Occupy supporter who posted the photos, told The Associated Press he didn’t know who put the hangmen up, but applauded the message behind it.

 

“People saying it’s in bad taste are living sheltered lives and don’t pay attention to what affects the working class,” he said.

Fair enough. But how does one escalate in order to truly capture the attention of those “living sheltered lives.” Will the next fake person be all too real?

Or will America’s “working class”, having been taken over the edge in its class hatred, decide to pay Wall Street a visit, and bring some mobile guillotines with it for good measure?

And is this really America any more, or is it France circa 1789?

And who will take the place of Louis XVI?

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Greece Prints Euros To Stay Afloat, The ECB Approves, The Bundesbank Nods: No One Wants To Get Blamed For Kicking Greece Out


Wolf Richter   www.testosteronepit.com

A lot of politicians in Germany, but also in other countries, issue zingers about a Greek exit from the Eurozone and the end of their patience. But those with decision-making power play for time. They want someone else to do the job. Suddenly Greece is out of money again. It would default on everything, from bonds held by central banks to internal obligations. On August 20. The day a €3.2 billion bond that had landed on the balance sheet of the European Central Bank would mature. Europe would be on vacation. It would be mayhem. And somebody would get blamed.

So who the heck had turned off the dang spigot? At first, it was the Troika—the austerity and bailout gang from the ECB, the EU, and the IMF. It was supposed to send Greece €31.2 billion in June. But during the election chaos, Greek politicians threatened to abandon structural reforms, reverse austerity measures already implemented, rehire laid-off workers….

The Troika got cold feet. Instead of sending the payment, it promised to send its inspectors. It would drag its feet and write reports. It would take till September—knowing that Greece wouldn’t make it past August 20. Then it let the firebrand politicians stew in their own juices.

It’s easy to blame the Troika, and it can take the heat. History searches for the person who is responsible. But the Troika doesn’t have one. It was designed that way: a combo of multi-layered, undemocratic structures. And the Troika inspectors, though despised in Greece, are career technocrats, not decision makers.

So Chancellor Angela Merkel became a substitute. Greek tabloids treated her like a Nazi heir, with Hitler mustache and all. But she’s not the decision maker in the Troika, though she is a contributor. And she—though still unwilling to water down the bailout memorandum—consistently stated that Greece should remain in the Eurozone. She doesn’t want to be blamed.

In early July, the inspectors returned to Athens to chat with the new coalition government and check on progress in implementing the agreed-upon structural reforms. Soon it seeped out that their report would paint an “awful picture” [read…. Greece Flails About, Merkel Draws A Line, German Industry & Voters Back Her: It’s Almost Over For Greece].

In late July, the inspectors returned to Athens yet again and left on Sunday. After another visit at the end of August, they’ll release their final report in September. A big faceless document on which people of different nationalities labored for months; a lot of politicians can hide behind it. Even Merkel. And the Bundestag, which gets to have a say each time the EFSF disburses bailout funds.

Alas, August 20 is the out-of-money date. September is irrelevant. Because someone else turned off the spigot. Um, the ECB. Two weeks ago, it stopped accepting Greek government bonds as collateral for its repurchase operations, thus cutting Greek banks off their lifeline. Greece asked for a bridge loan to get through the summer, which the ECB rejected. Greece asked for a delay in repaying the €3.2 billion bond maturing on August 20, which the ECB also rejected though the bond was decomposing on its balance sheet. It would kick Greece into default. And the ECB would be blamed.

But the ECB has a public face, President Mario Draghi. He didn’t want history books pointing at him. So the ECB switched gears. It allowed Greece to sell worthless treasury bills with maturities of three and six months to its own bankrupt and bailed out banks. Under the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), the banks would hand these T-bills to the Bank of Greece (central bank) as collateral in exchange for real euros, which the banks would then pass to the government. Thus, the Bank of Greece would fund the Greek government.

Precisely what is prohibited under the treaties that govern the ECB and the Eurosystem of central banks. But voila. Out-of-money Greece now prints its own euros! The ECB approved it. The ever so vigilant Bundesbank acquiesced. No one wanted to get blamed for Greece’s default.

If Greece defaults in September, these T-bills in the hands of the Bank of Greece will remain in the Eurosystem, and all remaining Eurozone countries will get to eat the loss. €3.5 billion or more may be printed in this manner. The cost of keeping Greece in the Eurozone a few more weeks. And on Tuesday, Greece “sold” the first batch, €812.5 million of 6-month T-bills with a yield of 4.68%. Hallelujah.

“We don’t have any time to lose,” said Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker. The euro must be saved “by all available means.” And clearly, his strategy is being implemented by hook or crook. Then he gave a stunning interview. At first, he was just jabbering about Greece, whose exit wouldn’t happen “before the end of autumn.” But suddenly the floodgates opened, and deeply chilling existential pessimism not only about the euro but about the future of the continent poured out. Read….. Top Euro Honcho Jean-Claude Juncker: “Europeans are dwarfs”

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Rosenberg On The Pending Trade Shock And Q4's 0% GDP Growth


It would appear that the dilemma of the world exporting more than it imports (that we initially pointed out here) is starting to come to a head in reality with a negative export trade shock. As Gluskin Sheff’s David Rosenberg notes, since the recovery began three years ago, over 70% of the real GDP growth we have seen was concentrated in export volumes and inventory investment; and recent data from the ISM (here and here) points to a dramatic slowdown in both. Compounding this weakness is the fact that the remaining growth was from Capex – which is now likely to slow given the weakening trend in corporate profits – and will more than offset any nascent turnaround in the housing sector – if that is to be believed. The consumer has all but stalled and adding up all these effects and there is a high probability of a 0% GDP growth print as early as Q4.

 

Macro Risks Squarely To The Downside

I think that there may be a time, before too long, when we will walk into the office to find that the US prints a negative GDP reading on the back of a negative export trade shock that does not appear to be in any forecast – let alone consensus.

 

Look at the pattern of ISM export orders:

  • April: 59.0
  • May: 53.5
  • June: 47.5
  • July: 46.5

That is called a pattern. And this is a level that coincided with the prior two recession. As the chart below vividly illustrates, there is a significant 81% correlation between annual growth in total US exports and the ISM new orders index (with a four month lag). So either the market has already priced this in or it is going to end up coming as a very big surprise. We are already seeing the lagged effects of the spreading and deepening European recession hit Asian trade-flows: Korean exports sagged 4.1% in July after a 3.7% slide in June and are down 9% on a YoY basis. Industrial production there edged lower by 0.4% as well last month – I like to look at Korea since it is a real global ‘play’ on the economic cycle.

 

There is likely going to be another surprise, which is inventory destocking. How do I know that? Because the share of ISM industries polled in July reported that customer inventories were excessively high soared to 33% in July from 11% a year ago (because this metric is not seasonally adjusted it can only be assessed year-on-year), the highest ever for any July in the historical database.

 

Add to that what is happening to order books – the share of the manufacturers reporting expanded orders sank to 17% in July from 50% a year ago and again – the worst July showing on record.

 

The food price situation is another major wild card, especially since whatever relief we enjoyed from lower gasoline prices is now behind us. At a 14% share of the consumer spending pie, only shelter is more important than food. And when you go back to the last food cost surge, in the first quarter of 2011 when the grocery bill soared at a punishing 10% annual rate, real GDP growth slowed to a 0.0% annual rate that quarter, which arguably was the big surprise of the year (up until the dent downgrade, that is).

 

In the final analysis, since the ‘recovery’ began three years ago, over 70% of real GDP growth we have seen was concentrated in these two areas: export volumes and inventory investment. The rest was in capex which is now likely to slow along with the weakening trend in corporate profits, more than offsetting the nascent turnaround in the housing sector. Also keep in mind that the consumer has stalled.

Tally all these effects up and you are looking at the prospects of 0% growth as early as Q4.

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