KEN GRANT: All That You Dream (May 20)

The plain truth is that on Wednesday night, I actually had a dream – and I’m not kidding – about Value at Risk (VaR).

We are excited and honoured to welcome Ken Grant as a regular contributor to the VFTP website. Ken is the founder of General Risk Advisors (GRA), a boutique risk consulting and solutions enterprise geared towards investment platforms and other risk sensitive entities.

Before founding GRA, Ken founded another risk management company, and prior to that he managed risk at Cheyne Capital, SAC, and Tudor. Please see the GRA website for more info, and we hope you enjoy Ken’s musings!

All That You Dream

“I’ve been down, but not like this before”

— Lowell George

As matters have evolved, I’m forced to make good on my threat to continue down the track list from Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus”. But not for reasons indicated in last week’s installment. There, I’d warned of such an outcome if I didn’t see a bunch of you birds hitting my twitter account. And it’s true that the response to this plea continues to be less than overwhelming.

But that’s not why I’m moving on to “All That You Dream.” The plain truth is that on Wednesday night, I actually had a dream – and I’m not kidding here – about Value at Risk (VaR).

I’ll spare you some of the more gruesome details of the fantastic journey upon which I entered while slumbering on 17 May, 2018. But a brief summary is perhaps in order. It involved an accusation of an incorrect calibration of the stepdown factor in the exponential decay function, causing an over-estimation of the 99th Confidence Interval estimate, and (as would be the inevitable outcome of such a misadventure) the loss of untold sums of wealth.

In the dream, I served as a bystander to these proceedings, which is only rational. I mean, after all, the mere prospect of someone such as myself committing such an amateurish blunder is beyond even the scope of slumbering fantasy. Rest assured, though, that I was in close enough proximity to understand that feelings ran high on both sides, and that matters were rapidly trending towards violence.

Then I woke up.

Perhaps I can ascribe some blame for the above-described fit of madness on the fact that it was Blockchain Week in New York (also known, alliteratively, as the CoinDesk Consensus Conference). Here, 8,000 delegates, along with their crews and side-pieces, descended upon the New York Hilton to pay obeisance to this newfangled techno-theology. Lamborghinis buzzed 6th Avenue on a ‘round the clock basis. Tchotchke bags of bling state not witnessed since the dot.com bubble littered the landscape. Parties, to which I was not invited, raged until dawn, and while I can’t say for sure, my guess is that many participants managed to make good on any short-term romantic escapades they were seeking.

The nerd revolution, like Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines in WWII, has returned.

Does it all mean anything, I mean, besides being: a) one swell party and b) an opportunity for some slick operators to stuff their pockets full of money and then exit stage left while the rest of us hang around to clean up the mess? Well, I reckon it does. Beyond all the blather, what we’re talking about is using newly available technologies to upgrade the manner in which commerce is conducted, and I believe that such concepts inevitably succeed. There’ll be some pushback, yes – particularly in the United States where economic rent-seeking agents living off the status quo will do all in their power to postpone their day of reckoning. But come it will. Perhaps more rapidly in regions such as Asia-Pacific, where, in the regions' less developed nations, fewer than a quarter of the populous have bank accounts but All God’s Children have a smart phone, and will use it to conduct crypto finance.

Recent published reports suggest, for instance, that commercial agents in the People’s Republic of China are even at this moment developing a blockchain framework for the purchase and sale of tea. If they’re successful, it might create one of the most scalable business opportunities of all time, because, you know (and forgive me here) there’s a lot of tea in China.

But for the present, the masses are forced to contend with longstanding traditional markets, such as those for stocks, bonds, commodities and Foreign Exchange instruments. And it was indeed an interesting week in these old-school realms. To my considerable surprise, the US 10-Year Note not only traded above 3%, but retained that lofty threshold throughout. Its big sister, the 30 Year Bond, breached the unthinkably usurious level of 3.25% on Thursday, a 4-year high. Presumably in delighted solidarity, USD continued on the upward slope of a recently formed V-bottom and that rally looks like it has legs. Brent Crude hit $80/bbl – also a multi-year high — before backing off some on Friday.

It appears, in summary, that these most critical non-equity market factors have breached technical thresholds, and if the chartists have their day, will continue to run in similar directions for some time before they pause for a well-earned rest. But one never knows.

Fundamentals are also lending a hand. This past week, Industrial Production, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey, the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook Survey and the National Association of Home Builders Housing Index all clocked in above expectations. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker surged past 4% for Q2. New Jobless Claims – particularly population-adjusted — are tracking at an all-time low, and Continuing Clams are disappearing at an astonishing rate:

I’ll throw one more in for you – the above-mentioned Chinese are in a frenzied quest for the ownership of apples – apparently at the expense of their equity holdings:

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the upward movements in the USD and domestic yields are rationally attributable to an exceptionally rosy economic outlook, which portends higher rates and a more attractive case for the conversion of other forms of fiat currency into Dead Prez. But one lurking question continues to vex me:

Why now?

The stone cold ballers with whom I roll have been anticipating just such a paradigm for many months, and, until just this week, have been more or less disappointed. And I’m just not yet convinced that we’ve suddenly entered a sweet spot, where the trends they teach in economic text books, ignored for so long, are suddenly to be followed.

Then there’s the equity market. I’m sentimental enough to believe that the narrative set forth above would carry forward to the stock-trading universe, but if so, I’d have been disappointed. Equities remain stuck in the narrow channel first formed after the recovery from the February debacle.

There are any number of reasons why the guys and gals on the stock desks are refusing to follow the script. They include justifiable worries that we’ve hit peak earnings, that the energy rally creates considerable negative offsets to Tax Reform, that Emerging Markets – particularly in the Americas, are showing signs of economic collapse, and that all of this trade brinkmanship is an ill wind that blows no good to any investors.

My personal favorite argument is the one that suggests the U.S. economy will quiver and perhaps crumble under the weight of > 3.5% yields on the 10-year note. The disappearance of “easy money” will cripple innumerable debt-sensitive enterprises, and the irresistible allure of higher returns on U.S. Treasuries will crowd out flows to the stock market. OK; I get it, but I’m a little leery of this hypothesis as well. We’re all in pretty bad shape if the economy can’t support nominally higher borrowing costs, but suppose we can’t? Well, then, stocks are likely to tumble, and, if the plot holds, investors will rush into the warm embrace of Good Old American Debt. If so, then yields will come back to earth, taking borrowing costs down with them, and giving a boost to equities. Then it will be lather, rinse, repeat.

I suspect what ails the equity markets falls more under the heading of political risk – both here and abroad – and that there simply is very little justification for an upward surge (or, for that matter, a nasty reversal) at this moment. But I’ve been warned of getting too political here, so I won’t (get too political, that is). Suffice to say that equity investors are in “show me” mode, and the next opportunity to respond to the Missouri crowd won’t come until after the quarter is over, so I reckon we’ll just have to wait, and I’ll retain my call that the indices will hold to their narrow ranges for now.

Who knows? The wait might actually pay off. If so “all that you dream will come through shining/silver lining…”

But as for me, all that I dream about these days is VaR. And I’m doing something about it. In honor of my somnolent hallucinations, and given the fact that they transpired during Blockchain Week, I’ve asked my guys to develop a Value at Risk Module for Blockchain and crypto, and they haven’t disappointed.

We’d be delighted to show it to you if you’re so inclined.

It might come in handy – sooner than you think.

TIMSHEL

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