KEN GRANT: Turkey(s) at Risk (TaR) (May 28)

Paul Krake

Turkey(s) at Risk (TaR)

Forgive the indiscretion of the calendar here, but even over this holiday weekend, I’m worried about turkeys. All of them. In every form. All over the world.

What’s that you say? Turkeys are out of season? Precisely my point. We’re a full six months away from their interval of maximum exposure, as, each November, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 5.32 Million of them are sacrificed to this nation’s quirky autumnal rituals.

So, it becomes all the more alarming that at a time when the planet is almost precisely 180 degrees away from its typical turkey martyrdom position, the noble birds and their namesakes are unquestionably having a rough go of it.

So much so, that I am forced to create a new exposure metric: Turkey(s) at Risk (TaR). The guys in the propeller hats in the General Risk Advisors Jet Propulsion Laboratory – adjacent to the Strip Mall in Wilton, CT are testing these routines out now. And when their models are fully done and dusted, you’ll be the first to know.

We are compelled, in the meanwhile, to rely exclusively upon qualitative measures, so let’s start with the personal, and move out, concentrically, from there. I myself am contributing to species-wide discomfort, by going Cold Turkey on one of my least appealing habits. I won’t go into great detail here, though it might surprise you to learn that the behavioral cycle I’m trying to break is entirely legal. But it is one I’m finding difficult to discontinue in one full stop. I’ve already relapsed once, earlier this month, but think I now have a better handle on this sucker. And one way or another, if I’m to succeed, I can’t allow myself to worry much about the sufferings of our above-referenced flightless fowls.

More broadly, it could be that our gobblers are in for a shelterless summer and chilly winter, as New York City is poised to join a list of jurisdictions that already includes both Malibu and San Luis Obispo, CA, Seattle, WA and Fort Meyers, FL, in banning the materials that comprise the Thanksgiving Bird’s favorite habitat: straws. This may be a simplistic argument, but it strikes me that the following relationship is likely to hold: NO STRAWS -> NO TURKEYS IN THE STRAW

But moving on to global affairs, the nation that bears the name of our zaftig orinth is experiencing a downward economic spiral that is worth monitoring, and perhaps filing under the heading of “there but for the grace of god go I”. The Turkish Lira is in free fall, the fact that its central bank raised overnight rates from 13% to 16% this past week notwithstanding:

Now, there’s a bunch going on in this ancient locale -- which once housed the capitals of both the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires.

However, as the Emperor Constantine once ruled over these realms, bordering, as they do, on both the Mediterranean and Black Seas, with God as his guide, the guys that are currently in charge appear to be taking less divine counsels. They’ve got a strongman there with an unpronounceable name, who is clamping down on his peeps in a manner more reminiscent of Caligula.

After demonizing the mere concept of high interest rates, he went and jacked them up midweek anyway, and the flight out of Turkish Lira only accelerated. They’ve got parliamentary elections coming up in about four weeks, but I kind of expect that the fix is in on that one.

Perhaps some of the problem is a contagion from events in Italy, just a short boat ride (or a desperate battle with Athenians and Spartans) away, and the country that sported the other, eponymous capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Over in Italia, a couple of unhinged political parties, ominously named The League and The Five Star Movement, have been unable to form a coalition sufficiently unhinged to satisfy their increasingly unhinged constituents, and the country may be headed for a snap election over the next few weeks. If the Italian Lira was still around, it would no doubt, like its Turkish counterpart, be selling off hard, but the Italian Lira does NOT any longer exist, so investors are forced to take their ire out in credit markets. Witness, for instance, the anger manifested in the spread between Italian debt and that issued by its former Axis pal Germany:

In raw terms, the still-to-be-formed Italian Government must now borrow out 10 years at the usurious rate of 2.20%, which may sound like a lot of vig, unless, of course you reside in the United States, where the same borrowing terms cost our government 73 additional basis points (2.93%). But even the Shylockian American rate is 20 bp cheaper than our boys could borrow at just a couple of weeks ago.

Perhaps we should all just move to Switzerland, whose 10 year government yields quietly slipped (yet again) into negative territory last week.

As these matters go, a lot of folks bailing out of, say, Italian Bonds are transferring the proceeds to their American equivalents, leaving local Bond Bears disappointed for yet another day. Their time may come, but perhaps not until a lot more turkeys are forced to bite the dust.

The Southern European Political Shenanigans also took the wind out of the sails of what had been a pretty fly rally in the Continental Equity Complex of late:

But the attendant love did not transfer to the Gallant 500. On the other hand, after several quarters of comatose behavior, it appears that the Russell 2000 has awoken from its slumbers:

It’s up an energetic 5.95% this year, and why not? Weren’t the small cap companies supposed to be the disproportionate beneficiaries of the tax cut? If so, you wouldn’t know it, that is, until recently.

But as for the 500, a disturbing trend has emerged. With 97% of earnings precincts having reported, the subsequent price action for those companies exceeding expectations has been, well, below expectations:

By my count, Q1 was the 5th straight such cycle of disappointment, and Q1 was a heck of a quarter. And I wonder if it might be necessary for Mr. Spoo to find another rabbit to pull out of his hat to move his troops out of the narrow channel in which he has wedged them.

But I just don’t see it happening until at least July, because why should it? The upcoming week features only four trading days, and about all I can see of import scheduled for release is next Friday’s Jobs Report.

And June itself, for what it’s worth may, not hold much drama either. Feel free, if you will to wring your hands about the on-again/off-again Singapore Summit, the latest polls for the Mid-Term Elections and the confusing psychodrama of our trade negotiations with China.

Just don’t expect any of these matters to provide much edge.

It might be the case that the volatility gods will join me in an extended cycle of Cold Turkey, with no straw in which to repose. This won’t be pleasant, and, truth be told, I’m starting to get the shakes. I’m told that the GRA TaR models won’t be available for at least another couple of weeks, and the wait is likely to tell upon me.

Perhaps I should go take a Turkish Bath, of which there are several in my area. Fortunately, they all accept local currency, because I just swapped out an entire safe full of Turkish Lira for one of those small cigars they make in Istanbul – one that I’m committed to never smoke. So, on this extended holiday weekend, I can only take my leave and offer you a sincere but non-seasonal gobble gobble.


Ken Grant 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 seethe GRA websitefor more info.


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