Off Topic

The Scary Commodities this Halloween

Halloween is here once more, and everyone around the office is gearing up: carving pumpkins, buying candy for trick or treat-ers, and last minute runs to the store for costumes. To get everyone else in the mood, we found some Halloween like similarities in the futures markets we couldn’t help but share.

Costumes:

Last year, it was the US Dollar/Euro Currency Battle Signal that got us excited for Halloween (Who doesn’t love bat man?)… and now that Bat Signal has transformed into one of the most feared villains in the galaxy… Jabba the Hutt, of course.

USD EUR(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Jabba

A couple weeks ago we went in depth about the US Dollar having its best quarter in years , and how Managed Futures has historically benefited from it (past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results), but what else is out there on Halloween Eve?

Scary Vs:

We’re talking a shock to the system…. That Damned V Reversal. Here’s Why you should be Afraid of the V-Shaped Reversal

That Damned V(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

V for Vendetta

Chocolate:

Everyone needs their fill of snickers, Milky Way, 3 musketeers on Halloween. But where that chocolate comes from has but the market in limbo the past couple of weeks. It appears, the Cocoa market decided to get nice and scary (volatile) just in time for the ghosts and goblins to come out. That’s just your basic up move of around 12% and -13.5% fall in about a month and a half… nothing to see here, move along.

Cocoa
(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Sugar: Super Scary

For those that don’t like Chocolate (see here), there’s the laffy taffies, the warheads, the sour patch kids… basically… Sugar…. And lots of it. The market jumped out it’s mountain trend to start the year and has been choppy ever since.

Sugar(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

We don’t expect sugar prices to go up anytime soon just because of Halloween, but recent studies show that the brain has the same reaction of cocaine as to sugar, suggesting that there might never be low demand.

Sugar Cocaine

 

That’s enough to maybe sway one of two people to be long sugar for the couple of the next couple years (or maybe short depending if the government calls for harsher restrictions).

We’ll leave that explanation to the journalists who make you really step back and think about it.  Here’s John Oliver from  Last Week Tonight doing his best to explain Sugar.  Have a happy Halloween, and don’t have too much sugar.

Past, Present, and Future in 30 Year Bond Futures

While everyone was watching the US Stock market bounce +5% over the last 8 trading days, there were a few hours of sheer terror/excitement (depending on what side of the trade you were on) in the 30 year US Bond Futures market at 10:00 am hour on October 22nd. What? Say you… I don’t remember any big moves in bonds at that time. And if you were looking at the so called ‘front month’ contract, you would be correct.  The December 2014 bond futures traded in a range of 142-10 to 142-12 between 10 am and 1 pm last Wednesday, as you can see below.

But while all was calm in the front month, there was a huge move going on in the June 2015 back month contract. Wednesday was the first trading day for that contract, and it quickly jumped from 141 to 152, a percentage gain of 7%, with a volume of over 16,000+ contracts in just 2 hrs. Compare the two moves below:

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The Secret Club That Runs the World

The Secret Club that Runs the WorldWow, the editor really got carried away with that title. We picked up a copy of Kate Kelly’s (great name) book ‘The Secret Club That Runs the World – Inside the Fraternity of Commodity Traders’ the other day, and after finishing it off – think the title probably should have been something more like:  A few traders who took enormously large risks, made fortunes, lost fortunes, and then faded into relative obscurity. But that might not have sold so well.

Beyond the critique of the title, however; this was quite an entertaining read for anyone involved in the commodity futures markets – and especially the energy markets.  The book touches a lot of different areas, including profiles on former regulators Bart Chilton and Gary Gensler; the dangers of indexing commodities after a huge run up, and how commodities were the red headed step child at Morgan Stanley.

But those parts are mostly just filler between the more entertaining sections discussing the incredible ups and downs of Pierre Andurand and his Energy Trading Hedge Fund Blue Gold Capital Management (since closed down), the behind the scenes drama as physical commodity giants Glencore and Xstrata tiptoed around a merger, and the bizarre tale of huge proprietary trading masked as hedging at Delta Airlines.

The Andurand/Blue Crest story is worth the price of admission alone.  Andurand is like a characterization of a hedge fund mogul for a movie. There’s his 11 million pound house in London, Goldman Sachs ties, ownership in a kickboxing league, a custom Bugati sports car, Elton John playing at parties, and – of course – the proverbial Russian model for a wife.  And then there’s the incredible performance:  +209% in 2008, +55% in 2009, and +13% in 2010 as assets under management surpassed $2 Billion; followed by a terrible day in 2011 when the firm lost close to half a billion dollars (in a day!).  About 16 months later, the fund shut down and sent home all the money to clients. Past Performance is Not Necessarily Indicative of Future Results.

This quote summed up Andurand (and our amazement on how they could have raised over $2 Billion).

“Everyone knew of Andurand’s appetite for emormous bets – and his reputation for relaxed risk management.”

Andurand has gone on to launch a new firm, Andurand Capital, which reportedly was one of the best performing funds in 2013, but we can’t help but imagine what one of our favorite authors, Nassim Taleb, might say about him.  Mr. Taleb might view the performance as little more than the personification of the role luck plays in investment outcomes. He may view Andurand as a human winning lottery ticket – the one trader out of tens of thousands trying to do the same thing who got the sequence of many best just right (although there were some that were notably wrong).  All we know is that we’ll keep rooting for the guy, so there’s more stories of mansions, private planes and model wives.

The rest of the story, excepting the regulator parts, is nearly as interesting – especially the stories around Delta Airlines mostly botched attempts at hedging their fuel costs, making for a good quick read that will have you at the very least, feeling a little emasculated over the size of your bets in the energy sector.

Invest like a Billionaire?

When someone first starts investing, there is the sort of high that comes with it; a high that convinces you that you just might be the next Warren Buffet. Sure. You watched a couple investing tips videos on Youtube, and you think you found some ETFs (with extremely low or no fees) that no one else knows about.

The thing is, that feeling never really goes away. The overly active investors are confident that with a little hard work they too will eventually become Warren Buffet. We all know the likelihood of that, so instead the people at Direxion decided to take that idea and turn it into an ETF. What are we talking about? The newly launched ETF Direxion iBillionaire (IBLN). Now you can feel like you’re trading with the greats, without actually doing it. Here is the description:

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Who needs the USDA when you can Live Tweet Crop Conditions

What gets Ag folks excited on a Monday morning on Twitter? Live Tweeting crop conditions. All day, the people of the “2014 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour,” have been tweeting their hearts out with the hashtag #PFtour14 to show the conditions of corn and soybeans across the Midwestern states.

Crop Tour Logo

The goal of this four day tour is to provide accurate information of the condition of corn and soybeans as harvest season approaches. We can’t think of a better way to do such a thing then traveling state to state live tweeting the conditions in the field in real time.

Now you might be wondering, doesn’t the USDA already collect data from around the country to provide the conditions of various crops? Yes, but this crop tour is unique in that they don’t want to focus on  yield numbers specifically, but the big picture.

“Don’t focus on yield calculations from individual fields,” says Brian Grete, Pro Farmer senior market analyst and leader of the tour’s eastern leg. “That isn’t what we are trying to do, and we actually discourage scouts from tweeting individual yield results. Instead, we look at the entire area we cover as one big corn field. Twitter is most useful for getting a general idea of what scouts are finding. And the pictures are valuable.”

Essentially, give people the opportunity to tweet about the condition of their corn with pictures, and you got yourself one heck of a trend (pun intended). Take a look at some of the pictures from the first day of the tour, via the Ohio County Journal.

Corn 1 [Read more...]

Bloomberg Vomits Alternatives

We couldn’t resist this Bloomberg headline the other day:  “Classic Cars, Lean Hogs and Duchamp Art Lead Alternative Investment Ranking”  Cars, Hogs, and art… and an alternative investment ranking – this was going to be interesting.

Except the ranking is little more than the trailing 36 month returns – without mention of the volatility, drawdowns, or any other risk to the investments.  And the so called “Alternatives” in the article seems to be an odd mish mash of returns for whole investment categories like Private Equity with its 100s of Billions of Dollars invested alongside the returns for single stamps from 1867 which gos for around $400.

Throw in a few Ferraris, REIT indices, some Bordeaux wine, Soybean Meal futures, and Hedge Funds; and it’s like Bloomberg vomited alternatives all over the page.

Conventional_1

Conventional_2

Exotic_1(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Tables Courtesy: Bloomberg

Now we get it, looking at exotic property or ideas is a lot more fun to read about then say risk adjusted ratios (what real alternatives folk geek out over), but to compare investing in wine and fast cars to Private Equity and Hedge Funds seems a bit off the mark to us. For one, there is perhaps $1 Billion worth of capacity in some of the ‘exotic’ investments put up on the page, while some of the hedge funds listed manage many billions.  It’s not quite fair to compare the return on a $400 stamp or $1,000 bottle of wine with the Trillions invested in the hedge fund and private equity space. One is attainable to a handful of people in the world, the other to millions. It’s sort of like comparing the Yankees win/loss record for the year with Phil “The Power” Taylor’s darts record.

Oh well… the tables are pretty and it’s fun to see how much some of those ‘exotics’ returned. Who knew?  Self storage REITs were the place to be. We’ll take the ‘under’ on that happening over the next three years.

As for their line about alternative investment (now they’re talking the whole world of them…) underperforming the S&P – that is another case of apples and oranges, although not for the reasons outlined above, with both return streams available to the masses.  Alternatives are oranges to stocks apples because “Hedge Funds Don’t Care if They’re Underperforming the S&P.”

Can You Time the Market Without Crying?

We’ve all seen pictures like this one from Putnam showing how bad of an idea it is to miss the 10 best days in the stock market

Missing the Best DaysChart Courtesy: Putnam

But we read an interesting post on trying to time trading systems (that’s like timing market timing) that seemed to approach this in a bit more logical way. You see – it doesn’t make much sense to talk about missing the 10, or 20, or 40 best single days in the stock market. Most market timers aren’t trying to avoid a single bad day,  and get back in the next day. Most are looking at things like Price to Earnings ratios and the rest are trying to avoid bad periods… not just bad days. Plus, nobody is that unlucky trying to time the market that they miss just the 10 best days over a few decades. On the flip-side, nobody is that lucky that they would magically miss the worst market days over 10 to 20 years, only to get right back in the next day.

It makes much more sense to us to talk about what missing the best streaks of days looks like. The best 10 and 30 days periods, for instance. That would be a lot more interesting; to see how bad/good you would have been if you picked the exact wrong/right time.

Here’s what we found:

(Note: These figures do not represent actual trading, and were not taken from real experiences)

Missing the Best Trading Days

Missing the Worst Trading Days(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
(Note: The figures and charts above are an example and do not represent actual trading)

In our opinion, the better argument for not trying to time would go something like this:

Trying to time the market?

  • If you’re incredibly smart, or lucky, or both – missing the worst 10 day streak would save you 549%
  • If you’re incredibly dumb, unlucky, or both – missing the best 10 day streak would cost you 212%
  • If you’re somewhere in between smart and dumb and have average luck – you’ll likely not miss anything… with missing the average 10 day streak resulting in 4%

We’re not sure if this supports timing or not – but it sure seems a better way to talk about it, rather than the more prevalent narrative about the big danger of missing the best 10 days in the stock market – like they come one right after the other or you’re the unluckiest person on the planet.  The whole thing is kind of silly anyway – as it is backwards looking, and would need to be completely thrown out the window if the next 30 years were the negative image of the past 30 years, with stocks returning –70% over the span. If that happens, then timing would do no good, again – it would be better to not be involved at all…