World Cup 2014 … Asian telcos & cable operators … between a Rock & a Hard Place

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Asian telecommunication companies (telcos) have long enjoyed oligopolistic hold in their respective markets in the past 2 decades when Asians found their love with mobile phones, internet broadband & cable TV. From the normalised (adjusted to USD) chart above (encompassing Singapore, Malaysia & Hong Kong telcos & cable operators), since the 2008 financial crisis, they have managed to performed very well indeed given their phenomenally stable earnings & relatively high dividend yields averaging 2.5 – 5% in general.

However, all good things must come to an end, sometimes it is some disruptive technological change or advance that renders certain businesses and processes obsolete. We have seen that with the steam locomotive, polaroid instant snaps, Xerox copiers, pagers, … the list goes on.  The roll-out of 3G-4G networks and fast breakneck fibre broadbands across Asia encouraged the growth of social media, peer-to-peer streaming & other usage of applications that are able to harness the tremendous speed & connectivity into the last mile into Asian consumers’ homes & even when they are on the move.  However, the country / domicile walls that these oligopolistic Asian telcos & cable operators have enacted in the past with their respective government support are crumbling down fast!

The key is that there are serious dearth of unique domestic content & services provided by all these Asian telcos & cable operators. Most contents, apps and media come from the West or recently from China, Korea & Japan that all the Asian operators syndicated, bought or licensed from.  This extends to the current FIFA 2014 World Cup that has enthralled all viewers around the world.  The ridiculous price that Singapore football fans have to endure to watch the World Cup matches  http://www.goal.com/en-sg/news/3880/singapore/2014/03/18/4690244/singapore-costliest-place-to-watch-world-cup is a case study of what has gone wrong in ”paying based on where you happen to live” when it can be free or much cheaper even within other Asian countries.

Asianmacro has been using a VPN service so that he can simply be in the USA, UK, Europe, Latin America or any other country he fancies as identified by his IP address & gateway / DNS to provide security for his online activities.  The fringe benefit to this is I have access to watch all the FIFA 2014 World Cup matches for free in those countries that provide free viewing to residents in them too (where Asianmacro will be simply be there by choosing to be there online)!

I have taken profit on my long position in Asian telcos like Singtel recently.  While I am not going short these stocks as they pay relatively high dividends that many yield hungry investors do chase, the question that we should be asking is whether Asian telcos really have a future besides being “dumb pipe” gateway providers in communications & media, without any real innovative apps or unique domestic content that people want & will pay for!

P.S. And asking Whatsapp or Skype to pay for using its network by Singtel’s CEO is definitely not the way to go! http://www.techgoondu.com/2014/02/26/commentary-singtel-wants-whatsapp-and-skype-to-pay/#.U6wq8PmSySo

Call me a lunatic … calling a short term market top

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Asianmacro had previously called for a continuous rally in S&P500 when it was at 1880 around May 24 and it has advanced almost 4% since  https://asianmacro.com/2014/05/24/path-of-least-resistance-is-up/. Back in May, many doomsayers were on CNBC and various media calling for an impending collapse of even 10-15% in stocks. But looks like  the shorts and underweights in equities and bonds were all forced to scramble and had to catch up with their benchmarks that they are underperforming against.

However with the impending Full Moon on June 13 and the onset of the FIFA2014 World Cup, I am now calling for caution. Generally, stocks tend to perform better in the days around the New Moon, while price weakness is often seen in the days around Full Moon as seen in the chart above. Many research have touched upon this topic like this here http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=281665 and an example of lunar-cycle trading by other traders can be found here http://lunatictrader.com/?Moon_Cycles:Lunar_Phases and http://www.ftsefreedom.com/2012/08/how-moon-affects-trader-sentiment-and.html.

However, another indicator which is the USA Federal Reserve Money Supply M2 yoy growth that I track to give me an idea of the pace of liquidity creation in the US monetary system.  It has peaked in 2012 in spite of further QE which has propelled the equity markets higher.  M2 in itself don’t mean much but belongs to an array of economic & other market indicators which I track. While we might see S&P500 ending higher and maybe even cross 2,000 level by December 2014.  But Asianmacro will take his chips off the table for now, pour himself a glass of nice burgundy, followed by a fabulous single malt whisky and watch the FIFA2014 World Cup action unfold.  The market is now left to the losers who need to be around. Not me!

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Path of least resistance is … UP!

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There have been many naysayers & dooms -day-prophets in the markets lately. It’s always easy to call for a 10-20% correction in stocks & general markets & saying ‘Sell in May & go away!”.  The key is when precisely? And also after all the selling in protecting your downside if you cannot take the temporary marked-to-market pain; when & how are you going to get back onto the financial market bus before it speeds off again without you is key!

Sometimes when everybody call for a market correction or move in either direction up or down, usually, it just ain’t gonna happen that way.  Just like the past week when calls of 1815 or 1780 in S&P500, a 5% correction to the downside seems imminent … we end up at almost 1900 by the end of the week.

Asianmacro likes to look at relative performance of EEM vs SPY (the Emerging Market ETF vs S&P500 ETF) as an indicator of flow of funds between developed & emerging markets whenever the direction of the general market is uncertain. From the chart above, we see that SPY has outperformed EEM since 2010 till January 2014 when it reversed. The biggest components of EEM are the likes of Samsung Electronics (3.93%), Taiwan Semiconductor (2.50%), Tencent (1.88%), China Mobile (1.55%), China Construction Bank (1.31%); where the top 5 names account for about 11% weighting & all are from North Asia.

From the chart below, new units creation in EEM have been driving the rally outperformance of EEM evidently. The question now is will we see this continue or we might have plateaued & reverse instead?

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It does seem that in the short run, perhaps we just might especially if China is relaxing the foreign investment rules http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303749904579579670989773760?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303749904579579670989773760.html. In addition, EUR/AUD FX cross continues to head lower with VIX and all signs do point to S&P500 crossing & powering higher above 1900 despite the howls of protests by the bears that was touched upon in my previous post on a summer melt-up rally in risky assets https://asianmacro.com/2014/05/13/the-summer-carry-melt-up-in-risk-assets/.

Remember, the path of least resistance is … UP … as this is when it’s most painful for everybody who’s gotten off the financial market bus & have not got back in again!

Full moon reversal & doing nothing .. football might save the world

It was a full moon last night on 14 May 2014 & usually more often than not, it signals a short term market top or reversal especially in equities. We did see an intraday high where S&P500 pushed above 1900 before reversing lower. It does not mean that we do not get a potential summer rally squeeze in risky assets https://asianmacro.com/2014/05/13/the-summer-carry-melt-up-in-risk-assets/ as we are not into summer yet but just knocking the door around the corner.

However, it does bring to mind the uncertainty & sense of not knowing what to do on certain days with conviction especially by the humble Asianmacro here who is only a small minion in the big scheme of things in the financial markets. The only thing that made sense is the video clip produced by Samsung assembling some of the best footballers on Earth to save us from an Alien invasion where the outcome is determined by a football match .. what else is new!

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From the chart above, if you look at the spread between the 1st & 2nd VIX futures contract, we are back again to 155 b.p. difference. Usually a big & growing difference where the 2nd contract value is greater than the 1st contract value implies an upward sloping volatility curve (for VIX) & represent a normalisation of sentiment (or complacency).  A small or narrowing difference and in the extreme when it goes to negative value implies an inverted volatility curve (for VIX) where heightened fear of imminent risk of crash in markets resulted in buying of volatility (or VIX) in near contract over that of far contracts.

The above is just a generalisation so as not to bore most of you who might not be equity derivatives & volatility traders. However, as you can see above, whenever we reach 155-175 b.p. spread in VIX 1st & 2nd futures, we do see a correction lower in S&P500 subsequently for a short period of time.  Anyway, there are just so many mixed signals in the markets at the moment. Sometimes it’s best to just sit back on the sidelines & wait …

“The desire for constant action irrespective of underlying conditions is responsible for many losses on Wall Street even among the professionals, who feel that they must take home some money every day, as though they were working for regular wages.” – Jesse Livermore

 

FIFA14 World Cup and financial markets

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Football, rugby, cricket, baseball, (*OK American football & Aussie rules football too just to be inclusive) are popular sports with most in the global financial markets. With the impending FIFA14 World Cup upon us in summer, what will happen to the traders & portfolio managers in banks, hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds & insurance companies? Short of abandoning their posts, their attention will be on the TV in the dealing room playing that match while they root for their teams.  Only the algos running the HFTs machines will continue to do their work unfailingly!

There have been many research done in the recent past to suggest anaemic volumes in stock markets & also of declines when a country loses a game http://www.nltimes.nl/2014/01/29/world-cup-losses-trigger-stock-market-drop/.  Even the venerable ECB had done a study on it before http://espn.go.com/sports/soccer/story/_/id/7573861/stock-market-trading-slows-world-cup-study-says as reported & the actual study can be seen here http://www.ecb.europa.eu/pub/pdf/scpwps/ecbwp1424.pdf.

However, this FIFA14 World Cup fever does increases the likelihood of the potential path of least resistance .. which is for a higher stock market & in risky assets in general as uninvolved cash on the sidelines, cautious traders & portfolio managers failed to invest & tracked the grinding higher markets. Perhaps, the silent algos in HFTs who do not watch any FIFA14 World Cup matches might get it right & actually be the culprits pushing & buying the markets even higher from here!

The summer carry melt-up in risk assets

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The hardest trade to put on mentally & physically in execution more often than not ends up being the right profitable trade. This was learnt the hard way by Asianmacro over the years like when overnight & tomorrow/next Thai-baht (THB) rate was at 10% at mid-day at the onset on the Asian crisis in May 1997, when it was only 3% in the morning, it still made sense to pay up to secure any funding if you really need them. It ended up at 1,000% by late afternoon & everything keeled over.

There is a sense of deja-vu at the moment except that this time instead of the markets keeling over, there seems to be a slow motion melt-up in risk assets led by U.S. stock markets with S&P500 leading the way while Nasdaq100 & Russell2000 recovered from their respective corrections over the recent weeks.

From the chart above, where both the EUR/AUD FX cross & VIX bear high correlation & R-square with each other.  Everything seems to suggest with declining VIX and a continued search for FX carry best represented by EUR/AUD shorts (to earn the interest rate differential between EUR & AUD) … the pain trade is to see risky assets melt up even more into summer!

Macau gaming … casinos caught between a rock & a hard place

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There is definitely no place in Asia and even the world that is more glitzy, over-the-top & catering to every debaunchery that you can think of except in Macau.  Casinos raked in the money over the last few years especially when the gambling addicted mainland Chinese were unleashed onto the gaming tables like pent up addicts.  But of course a lot & how much of that money flow onto the gaming tables is anybody’s guess on the percentage which came from money laundering of ill-gotten gains in China. These sums were brought into Macau that is widely speculated through various means as discussed here http://www.businessinsider.com/how-people-use-macau-to-launder-money-2013-11?IR=T&.

SJM (800 HK), Galaxy (27 HK), Wynn Macau (27 HK), Melco (200 HK), Sands China (1928 HK) & MGM China (2282 HK) that are the listed gaming stocks of the casino operators soared in the last 2 years.  However, with the anti-corruption crackdown in China initiated with a renewed vigour since late 2013, the gaming stocks reached a top in January 2014 & have fallen about -26% since according to the chart above; showing the performance of a composite basket of gaming stocks.

With no let-up in China President Xi jinping drive to stamp out financial sleaze by punishing “tigers and flies” – corrupt officials at all levels of the ruling Communist party of China, prospects do not look bright still.  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0bf0de6c-d6a2-11e3-907c-00144feabdc0.html#axzz312j7F7nE.

Asianmacro is going short on Macau gaming stocks using the composite basket as reference at 67 to 70 level & targeting a further -30% drop to 46-50 level.

Let’s roll the dice indeed!