Crescat Capital’s Q2 letter to investors focuses on three key macro ideas that are complementary plays on the unwinding of currency and financial asset bubbles at a likely peak of a global capital cycle, the most leveraged in history:
Shorting US stocks at proven, historic-high valuations relative to underlying fundamentals with abundant catalysts for a near-term bear market leading to a US recession;
Shorting the overvalued and weakening Chinese yuan and China contagion plays to express the unwinding of a credit bubble that is unprecedented in scale and already bursting; and
Buying precious metals commodities at record deep value compared to the global fiat monetary base and related miners at record cheapness to the underlying fundamentals with an increasing number of important new signals showing rising US and global inflationary pressures and a hamstrung Federal Reserve that is unable to stop them.
These themes represent what we believe are the biggest macro imbalances in the world today.
The Hamstrung Fed
The Fed is raising interest rates late in the economic cycle. The problem is that inflationary pressures have finally reached a critical mass where they have rendered the Fed’s monetary policy ineffective. The Fed cannot fight inflation and prevent financial asset bubbles from deflating at the same time.
… Even while pushing to new highs recently, the US stock market is running out of steam. Market internals are weakening across multiple breadth indicators. These indicators are diverging compared to the January prior high in the S&P 500: substantially lower new 52-wk highs, much lower % of stocks above 70 on RSI, and much lower percent of stocks above 200-dma. We strongly believe the US stock market is poised to follow the rest of the world down.
The Fed is hamstrung because, while it has been raising rates, it continues to run a hot monetary policy in the US, one that is still way too loose to fight rising domestic inflationary pressures according to our model as well as the Fed’s own Taylor Rule. Rising M2 money velocity is one sign of rising inflationary pressure today that many people have overlooked. For much of the last decade, money velocity has been declining, but it has recently broken out of a long-term downtrend as we show in the chart below.
… Per Crescat’s model, the neutral Fed funds rate that would be necessary to control rising inflationary pressures today is 5.5%. The current Fed funds rate, however, is only 2%. Our research is based on the history of a breadth of inflation and labor market indicators and the Fed Funds rate going back to 1971.
When the Fed keeps interest rates too low for too long, it creates financial asset bubbles that it has difficulty extricating itself from. If the Fed were to raise interest rates by 3.5% to get to the neutral rate to prevent rising inflation, it would be catastrophic for today’s financial asset bubbles. Doing so would massively invert the yield curve, crash the stock and credit markets, and create a recession. Such is the tradeoff between inflation and financial asset bubble deflation that we face today.
It is clear that aggregate US financial asset valuations are at excessive, all-time highs, by looking at the ratio of financial assets to income as shown below. Today’s US equity and credit markets valuations combined are what we call MOAB, the mother of all bubbles:
It doesn’t matter whether we have stable low inflation, inflation, or deflation, valuation multiples are simply too high today and will shrink in all cases based on history. The market is simply discounting way too much future growth and is not discounting a recession.
China Credit Currency and Credit Bust
While the mother of all financial asset bubbles is represented by US stocks and credit today, China represents the mother of all credit bubbles based on its massively overvalued currency and banking system.
In June, we showed how Crescat can perform as the China credit bubble just started to burst. Crescat Global Macro Fund was one of the top hedge funds through June YTD thanks to our significant yuan short position and other China credit bust plays. We strongly believe there is so much more to play out, especially with respect to China’s currency devaluation.
China has been the fastest growing major GDP economy in the world, contributing over 50% of global GDP growth since the Global Financial Crisis. But the China miracle has all been accomplished by unsustainable debt growth, non-productive capital investment, and a massive hidden non-performing loan problem. China’s NPLs are estimated at close to USD 10 trillion according to one respected China credit analyst, Charlene Chu, at Autonomous Research. Our analysis concurs. We published our most in-depth China credit bubble research letter last year and we believe that China is now entering a recession that would occur with or without Donald Trump’s trade war which is hastening it.
As shown in the charts below, China’s massive and unsustainable banking asset growth represents a substantially bigger banking imbalance than that of the US prior to the Global Financial Crisis and a bigger imbalance than the EU banking bubble prior to the European Sovereign Debt Crisis.
Gold is cheapest ever in history compared to the global fiat monetary base as we recently showed.
Silver is historically cheap to gold. Miners are historically cheap to their own fundamentals, and even cheaper when one considers depressed gold and silver prices today. Precious metals are the ultimate inflation hedge and haven asset of our two MOABs, China credit bubble and the US financial asset bubble burst. Too many investors fear another deflationary bust if they fear one at all. Asset bubbles will certainly deflate. But real economy deflation is the last war. The Fed has already proven in the last cycle that money printing conclusively can beat deflation. We have shown above the many signs of rising inflation today, from rising money velocity, to de-globalization, to new higher fiscal deficits from tax cuts, to Phillips Curve pressures, to Crescat and Fed models that show the Fed still way too accommodative to stop rising inflation. The Fed is currently rendered ineffective in fighting inflation because any serious effort to do so would risk bursting record financial asset bubbles.
Therefore, if we could own just one asset class to hedge against ultimately rising inflation as record financial asset bubbles are bursting, it’s precious metals. Next to the US dollar, gold remains the most ubiquitous central bank reserve asset in the world and global central banks have been net acquirers of it since it bottomed in 2015.
We want to be on the same side of central banks.
The recent weakness in gold combined with record speculative short interest presents a great deep-value buy today for gold.