QE2′s Titanic Voyage

The QE2, now moored at Dubai is a magnificent ship. It is an awesome flotilla of human engineering with 5 restaurants, 2 cafes; 3 swimming pools; a pub, a nightclub and several bars; a casino; a 481 seater cinema; shops; health clubs; the largest floating library and a hospital – all comprising an ecosystem of 3000 people (incl full roster of passengers) that circumnavigates around the world in 80 days. Given the cacophony of the other QE2 (Quantitative Easing, proposed & hopefully stillborn Round 2) in the US, I try to compare this Cunard marvel to the US economy. I randomly switch between QE2, the ship and the Fed’s QE2 (the raising of a shipwreck)

I have been absorbing and echoing popular thoughts that the recent Indian market rally has been fuelled by Foreign Institutional Investment (FII) related flows and that once this spigot runs dry, we’ll have a nice juicy correction. A big enough gash to seriously bleed the short term traders. But I never counted on the Fed docks building and launching another armada of liquidity into the markets! The US docks, from this perspective just never seem to run dry. And now I am big time confused. The QE2 rush of dollars will only add fuel to the fire, right? So, will we be seeing a near parabolic rise in Indian equity? Will the Diwali rockets fire up real high this year? You may have noted my aversion to seeing parabolas in stock charts from some of my past posts and the accompanying note that parabolas are not self-sustaining. Good for the Indian Government really – considering the slew of paper that is about to be thrown into the ring.

Like QE2, the American economy moves slowly and consumes a lot. The QE2 reportedly moves a cool 40 – 50 feet per gallon of fuel. That implies a mileage of 3.7 meters per litre of fuel. A snail (if blown up proportionately) will be supersonic in comparision, I guess. Like the ship, the American economy is moribund and is crawling towards what many are calling a recession? The QE2 has been navigated by 23 Captains till date, the Fed on the other hand has seen only 14 Chairmen at its helm. The QE2 was introduced in 1967, the Fed came about in 1913. The Fed Chairmen are quite sticky: like barnacles I guess. The QE2, when it was floating around used to consume 430 tons of fuels per day. My back of the envelope suggests that the US drinks 2.3 million tonnes of gasoline a day. I guess India’s figure is at 100 million tonnes of petrol a year.

The other important point is that the Royal Navy recruited the QE2 in 1982 to serve the original Queen in the Falklands War. Similarily, the Fed Captain is pushing QE2 to prepare for war. Only this time it will be a war that will be played out on the currency screens of traders across the world. We seem to be bracing for a full scale global currency war as the QE2 sets float. The difference being that this new artifact from the Fed is being pressed into service on an already raging sea of liquidity. The voyage around Tierra del Fuego has always been notorious – imagine creating a tsunami on a particularly nasty day aross this southern tip of South America as a solution to taking ships over and around the bend! Davy Jones Locker, surely. That too a man-made artificial tsunami. That’s what the Fed is doing, I think. Raising the waves in the hope that domestic (read US) yatchs, boats, dinghies and sundry canoes will start ‘consuming’ the momentum by hoisting up their sails, revving up their motors, rigging up the tow lines and picking up their sculls. Really? What many think is that nature will always choose the path of least resistance and this extra liquidity will quit the Atlantic and flow down towards more Pacific waters. Whither QE2? What will it achieve if that happens?

And finally one last lesson to pick up from QE2. It’s new owner is the Nakheel Group – an Asian real estate group with diversified interests in asset management, liesure and real estate whose website, just like the QE2 seems to be quite slow. The lesson is that developing nations one day will get tired of having to bear the responsibility of mopping up all of this money that the QE2 is spilling out. Unfortunately, it’s not a cornucopia – it’s really a runny nose. And the virus is catching on fast. Emerging economies will one day realise that they’d be better off buying US assets and directly injecting equity into the US system as opposed to buying the rapidly falling US Dollar. If the US domestic investment does not get kickstarted by this QE2, can foreigners buy mines, companies, set up offices in the US and provide employment directly? Can they, is the other question. Arnold Schwarzenegger is touring Asia to see who can build a high speed train system for California.

 The war is on. We saw two wars around the time the gold standard was abolished and the major countries of that age took it upon themselves to support local inflation by printing currency to fund war. After the dust had settled down,  the US dollar was to be much more than just the national currency of the US. After the gold standard was abolished, the US was at its zenith, unscathed by the World Wars and it took it upon itself to make the USD a truly global medium of exchange. The people managing the USD (the Fed Captains) therefore, theoretically at least had a global responsibility. They still have. The point is that when the Fed does things like QE2, the pain is equally felt everywhere. That is why this unilateral stewardship of the world economy will make the recalcitrant new kids on the block itching to pick up a fight. The rednecks will stolidly hang on to their artifical currency pegs while the boys in blue will stoke up local inflation. Common man will get crushed under the weight of rising prices and a Government might fall.

Additional reading:

  1. A view from Infosys’ Think Flat blog: Will QE2 sail or sink?
  2. A caption that I do not agree with: QE2 to speed triumph of emerging markets

The Bond Bubble

The bubbling stories going around this week in the financial blogosphere have mostly centered on the heady climb of US treasuries. In fact the topic has been quite hot the past month but the din is getting louder now. Comparisions with the dot com bubble and the housing bubble have started doing the rounds. The yield on the 10 year US paper is currently around 1% now. Which means that if you freeze the frame today, it will take a hundred years for the interest component to add up and match the price you pay for such bonds today. The P/Es (inverse of yield) of the no-brick and no-mortar tech companies were also in the heady hundreds during 1999-00. I don’t have too much of a view since it’s all happening outside of our shores. The Small Investor writes about it here as also the links I’ve listed below: it’s important enough for us to pay attention since we have NOT decoupled ourselves from the west. It’s actually the FII money that’s driving up our local markets here. Hot money.

  • FT Alphaville on the conundrum that equity prices and bond price are now moving in step. i.e. UP!

Logically, I’d guess that the bond market is bigger, more liquid and less amenable to manipulation. So, if the bonds and the stocks are sending out conflicting messages, should one not trust the former?

However, are bond markets better predictors of the economy? I think not: since nominal GDP growth and interest rates are both driven by inflation. Correlation is NOT causality. It’s a mistake many make – if two lines A & B move in tandem, that does not necessarily mean that A and B have a causal relationship. There could be a third factor C which is driving both A & B. So, bond prices are ↑; equity markets are ↑; economic data (US) is ↔. Thats the confusion. 

  • A website called bond-bubble (what else!) has come up and the graph on it’s homepage is quite telling.

It shows the super steep rise of US public debt – almost a parabolic rise. To me this looks similar to the rise of the Chinese stock market. That looked parabolic as well ( y = 4 * A * x↑2) and it could not defy gravity. But can US debt come crashing down? Maybe – if the currency crashes.

  • That seems to be awesome news for the gold bugs! It makes the case that the bursting of the bond bubble will pave the way for a massive upsurge in gold prices. The article notes that the yellow metal shines brightest in three situations – “heightened economical/financial risk; outright inflation and/or deflation”. And therein makes the case for a coming Gold bubble! Marc Faber,  (who keeps telling people to buy gold) has been bearish on treasuries right through the start of April but no one seems to be listening.


This is making people like me (the “half informed”) even more nervous now. Ignorance is bliss – part knowledge is most painful. Anyways, the local markets are frothing on all the money that’s coming in from the US. The Fed there is busy buying up treasuries and sloshing money in their system (to buy the bonds, the Fed has to release money by paying whoever is holding bonds). They’re doing it by working their printing presses overtime spooking inflation. But I guess the game with inflation is that if you whack it too much too fast, the thing just snaps and the party careens towards deflation. I wish I had paid more attention during my economics classes. But to me it sounds logical that what comes in, goes out. So, this money will go back from where it came (at least in the interim). And all will fall down.

Though there is some more ground for the NIFTY to cover. That’s what the “experts” here are saying. The market isn’t fully stoned yet. It’s just started rolling the weed, maybe a few drags….let’s stop hallucinating. In 2008 so many of our local “experts” were shouting out that India is decoupled and that the housing bubble will not effect us. Even politicians had joined the chorous. De-coupled my moon. We are as joined to the US hip as our big bro in the vicinity.

Maybe I’ll be able to call the top.

Rupee’s “stable” symbol

It was good to see our currency getting a formal symbol in the midst of all talk and nervousness about inflation. While D. Udaya Kumar scrawls himself into history’s books for designing the symbol, I have my own take on the symbol and what is symbolises. Some people felt that using Devanagiri script is anti-non Devanagiri India and I feel that they are loco. My problem is that Ms. Ambika Soni used the design to explain the underlying stability of the Indian currency. What stability? I am not able to understand. Inflation is running so very high and controlling the currency is like riding (and trying to tame) a wild horse. I am a bit slow in these things.

But what I do know is that some of the factors that determine currency stability are : A) enough liquidity and cushioning in the local banking systems, B) the accompanying political landscape is stable, C) inflation is under control, D) legal systems are strong. If these ingredients are not in synch, the currency may topple over. Since symbols represent the inherent qualities of a currency and since the currency is a barometer of the strength of an economy, let’s use reverse logic to check if the chosen symbol for the INR does indicate stability. Let’s at least check if the symbol chosen for the INR is stable in the first place. We’ll might also take a look at the stability factors of the major world currencies while we are at it.

The concept of center of mass, borrowed from physics indicates the center of any shape, however weird it may be. If you make a 3 dimensional solid out of any basic shape, such a shape should be able to spin around it’s axis – and keep spinning if friction were absent. In the real world, friction and restraining forces constantly act on physical bodies. Let’s examine each major currency symbol (click on symbol to magnify), as if it’s 3 dimensional figure were standing on the world platform and see how it respondes to forces of inter-country friction, asset bubbles, financial profligacy, etc – all being represented by the testing forces of friction (cost of being a world currency on the world platform) and gravity.

Stable. But one nudge and it’ll topple over left or right – i.e. to China or the U.S.A Very stable!! Stodgy and just may not budge. Won’t be able to withstand it’s own weight. Will topple over Stable. But one nudge and it’ll topple over. Already fighting it’s 200DMA Will fall down right. If only the horizontal railroads began from further left.

I recommend that you do not take such advise when initiating positions on currency movements! BTW, you don’t have to be a financial whiz kid or a professional trader to initiate positions in world currencies. Just your decision to take up a job in India’s software industry makes you terribly short on the INR. 

Anyway, I like the symbol – whether it is stable or not. I like it since the Big B has requested that it be featured in the logo of the next edition of his show – KBC. I like it despite the fact that it looks like a bastard child borne out of the union of the Devanagiri Ra and the Latin R. I like it despite the fact that it gave me a kink in the neck. I wanted to see if there is some Dan Brownish hidden symbolism in it’s meaning. I craned my neck up and down, held up my laptop at weird angles for that aha! moment but all I got was a sprain in my neck. See, there is massive hidden meaning in the symbol of the EUR. What happens when you tilt the EUR by 90 degrees? You get something similar to this! Hinting at the intrigue and various games that the continent has always been a stage for. Then there was that story of the WTC attack being foretold in a USD 20 dollar bill.

Actually, if you are lean that way and incline yourself physically that way as well, you might just spot this in our currency symbol. Hardly something to associate free capitalism with! 🙂

But considering the fact that cigarettes, tulips, spices, cows, et al have all served as good currencies in the past, I do not think we should have any problem with this tilted masterpiece.

Symbolism apart, the real concern that should play on the minds of our policymakers is the runaway inflation that’s on us at the moment. I was in Mumbai over the weekend and just could not believe the amount I had to pay for just 250 grams of okra, a kilo of tomatoes, a suspicious looking floret of cauliflower. Around a 100 INR! Prices of food and related stuff are increasing @ 20% per annum. So are costs of education and medicine. Eating out has become crazily expensive. So, what I am saying is that the INR is not fiat currency. Far from it. Just that inflation is making things difficult. Very difficult. And the people in charge need to change many more things than just the symbol of the INR.

Did you know that the Vietnamese currency is known as the Dong? And that frugal Vietnamese women really know how to stretch one to the hilt? 😐 The symbol for their currency looks a bit sexual as well.

ctrl, SHIFT, delete

I am squeezing in a quick obligatory post since The Third I opens (i.e. has new posts) every 3rd day….

Shifted to Hyderabad – yesterday. New work. New chapter. At first glance, the city seems good….but to me, personally, the Maximum City is just that – max. Always.

Will be staying alone, so cooking, cleaning, etc get added to my resume! I do not have unfettered access to the internet to start off with, therefore this pathetic looking first post from a new city. Hope to get regular quickly. Got to go….need to find something to eat. Then to find someplace to stay.

BTW, have not even as much glanced at whats happened to the markets since Monday. Unless the floor has given in I think I’m good. It’s a virtue to develop – especially if you are deeply long equities. To develop the ability to breathe normally if one is shut off from the tickers for an extended period of time. And yet sleep blissfully. Learning that money should be driven by you and not the other way around.

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