Commodity price, Commodity risk, Complexity, Economics, Expertise, Hedging, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Oil market, Risk management, Trend following

Market fundamentals, forecasting and the groupthink effect

Last month I had the privilege of meeting with Jaran Rystad of Rystad Energy to discuss strategic cooperation between our companies. On the occasion, he gave me a rather detailed presentation of his firm’s energy intelligence database. I must say, in my 20+ years trading in commodities markets this is by far the most impressive product of its kind I’ve ever seen. Even from the software engineering point of view, I was very impressed. For full disclosure, nobody asked nor encouraged me to write this. Much as you’d recommend a restaurant where you ate well or a doctor you respect, I wholeheartedly recommend Rystad Energy as a provider of energy market intelligence as a matter of giving credit where credit is due.

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With Jarand Rystad of Rystad Energy in Monaco – their oil market intelligence is impressive by any standard.

However, even with top notch data on economic supply and demand fundamentals, divining the future remains difficult and unlikely. John von Neumann rightly said that forecasting was “the most complex, interactive, and highly nonlinear problem that had ever been conceived of.” Continue reading

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Asset management, Behavioral finance, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Trading, Trend following

Trend following might save your tail

In the age of central bank quantitative easing, trend following has become an unpopular investment strategy, even earning tiself a bad name as trend following funds performed miserably compared to bonds, equities, and passive index funds. Below is a chart put together by AutumnGold showing a growing gap between Managed Futures funds the S&P 500 and Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index. Managed futures funds are a good proxy for trend following performance as most of them apply systematic trend following strategies in one way or another.

20190604_AutumnGoldChart

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Asset management, Central banking, Economics, Inflation, Market research, Market trends, Policy

US jobs: everything is awesome! Is it? Let’s take another look.

A few years back in an interview with Wall Street Journal’s “Heard on the Street” program , Elliott Management’s Paul Singer said that his greatest worry was the rise of inflation that could appear suddenly. He suggested that this could come about with small changes in perception of inflation risk. Specifically, “The first whiffs of either commodity inflation or wage inflation,” said Singer, “may cause a self-reinforcing set of market events … which may include a sharp fall in bond prices, … fall in stock prices, rapid increase in commodities…

However, government statistics keep churning out almost too-good-to-be-true data. With today’s report, unemployment is down, but wage pressure is “muted.” But is it? Last month’s Average Hourly Earnings ticked down from a 3.4% annual growth rate to 3.2%. The small down-tick prompted the collective market komentariat to declare that wage pressures are abating. But are they really? A look over the longer-term trend gives quite the opposite impression: wage pressures are in an upward trend that appears to be accelerating. Here’s the official data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

201904_AverageHourlyEarningsTrendingUp

 

The main worry about this trend is percisely inflation – you know, the thing Warren Buffett likened to an economic equivalent of the hydrogen bomb for a debtor nation. Should we remain relaxed and complacent because at present there’s little inflation discernible in the official data?

Historical research published by Alliance Bernstein indicated that significant changes in inflation almost always come as a surprise: “elevated money and credit growth is a warning sign. Another warning sign occurs when the level of aggregate demand begins to bump up against supply constraints. And a third is a rise in wages. None of these factors alone causes inflation, but in combination they are extremely likely to signal inflationary risk.” Still, says complacency: “we don’t expect any surprises.” Live and see.

 

Alex Krainer [alex.krainer@altanawealth.com] is a hedge fund manager and commodities trader based in Monaco. He wrote the book “Mastering Uncertainty in Commodities Trading

Description: Trading and hedging commodity price risk

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Asset management, Behavioral finance, Hedging, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Risk management, Stock market, Trading, Trend following

Lessons Of Japan’s 1980s Bull Market

Afer popping, Japan’s 1980s bull market gave way to an 82% drop over the following 20 years.

Three decades later, Japanes equities are still more than 40% below peak valuations.

One of the most effective methods of navigating the boom/bust cycles has been the systematic trend following.

Sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific

Roger Babson, 5 Sep. 1929

If everybody indexed, the only word you could use is chaos, catastrophe. The markets would fail

Jack Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group

As of December 2018, passive index funds controlled 17.2% of the stock of all U.S. publicly traded companies, up from only 3.5% in 2000. The 5-fold increase was in part the consequence of the ongoing stock market growth, which now has the distinction of being the longest running bull market ever recorded. Buoyed in large part by central banks’ unprecedented quantitative easing (QE) programs, the rising stocks have lulled many investors into complacency.

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Commodity price, Energy crisis, Hedging, Market trends, Oil market, Politics, Trading, Trend following, War and peace

The Coming Oil Price Shock 3: Saber Rattling In The Persian Gulf

Side note 1: as oil geopolitics tensions escalate I’ve decided to sequentially number my “coming oil price shock” articles. This is the 3rd one (the first one is here, and second one here.)
Side note 2: if oil price hedging is a headache, please view my presentation here (YouTube, 12 minutes).
  • Trump Administration put their credibility on the line by taking a hard line on Iranian oil exports, pledging to collapse them to zero.
  • Iranian officials matched the rhetoric by promising to close the Straits of Hormuz entirely to oil traffic. A third of world’s traded oil production transit through that choke-point.
  • Assurances of ramped-up oil production from Saudi Arabia and Opec appear as firm as a wet noodle.

 

U.S. taking a hard line on Iran oil exports

Over the Easter weekend we’ve seen an escalation of Trump Administration’s rhetoric toward Iran. On Monday, 22 April, State Secretary Pompeo issued an official statement pledging that after their expiry on May 2, the U.S. would not renew any of the waivers enabling Iran to export crude oil. Iran’s oil exports have already dwindled from 2.5 million barrels per day last April to around 1 million barrels, and the official U.S. policy is to bring Iranian oil exports to zero.

In taking the hard line against Iran, the Trump administration has put its credibility on  the line. Secretary Pompeo followed up the official announcement on twitter, stating that, “maximum pressure” means maximum pressure. Trump backed him up promising “full sanctions…”

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Commodity price, Commodity risk, Economics, Energy crisis, Hedging, Market research, Market trends, Oil market, Policy, Social development

The coming oil price shock: troubling news from Saudi Arabia

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Commodity price, Commodity risk, Energy crisis, Hedging, Market psychology, Market trends, Oil market, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

Six Principles To Adopting Best Practices In Commodity Price Hedging

  • This week Sinopec disclosed the latest hedging mishap, losing $690 million amid last year’s oil price collapse.
  • Unless price risk management is organized as an integral part of core business operations, it can devolve into eratic and risky game of speculation that can cause massive damage.
  • The six simple but important guiding principles could help commodity firms create a world class risk management process and turn price risk into a source of value and competitive advantage.

This week Sinopec disclosed that it had incurred $690 million in losses in the fourth quarter of 2018. The losses were attributed to Unipec’s oil hedging bets. Unipec clearly took the wrong directional exposure to oil prices in the period when they staged a sharp, 40% collapse (October-December 2018). This much is understandable. However, such losses did not need to happen – I maintained heavy exposure to oil prices over the same period and not only avoided heavy losses but actually generated significant profits by simply adhering to a systematic trend-following model.

As I detailed here, systematic trend following enables nimble navigation of market price roller-coasters, eliminating rogue trader risk and removing human error. Trend following models respond to market price fluctuations as they unfold, without distraction, without emotion and without strong convictions that could ultimately turn out wrong (always a costly discovery).

 

Unipec’s hedging mishap is only the last in a long series of incidents underscoring the fact that commodity firms ought to take their hedging operations seriously and seek to develop them following best practices in price risk management. Price risk management should be integrated with the firm’s overall business operation and make part of the firm’s business strategy. Otherwise, hedging risks to turn into a dangerous game of speculation which, in many cases, has spun out of control causing massive damage.

Organizing to manage price risk

A purposeful, effective approach to managing price risk requires an adequate organizational framework. For any organization, the questions of what risks are taken, in what measure, and how they are managed are strategic questions and should be decided at the board level. The implementation of these decisions should be owned by the firm’s CEO.

1. Explicitly designate the proper role of risk management

Managing commodity price, currency, or interest rate risk should enable a firm to take risks in a controlled and purposeful fashion, accept occasional losses and communicate such losses to its stakeholders openly and transparently, without losing stakeholder confidence in the validity of the firm’s strategic choices or the management’s capability to achieve them.

Without clarity and guidance from the company’s board and the CEO, the firm may be vulnerable to serious risk-related disruptions, or failure to take advantage of favorable market events.

2. Identify main sources of risk

Running a formal audit of key areas of risk exposure – by business unit and by risk category – should form the foundation of a firm’s risk management process. For each category of risk, alternative instruments and methods of risk management should be identified and their respective advantages and disadvantages thoroughly examined and documented. Having evaluated the pros and cons of the available alternatives, management can formulate specific objectives and strategies to be implemented in achieving those objectives.

3. Define firm’s risk appetite and methods of risk management

Definitive risk management strategies should set forth the company’s risk management methods and its appetite for risk. It should also set out the responsibilities for risk management throughout the organization. At that point, management should anticipate the necessary organizational adjustments, training and staffing requirements and it should undertake a thorough documentation of the management process, controls, restrictions and paperwork flow.

4. Adopt a gradual approach

The best part about developing an effective price hedging process is that firms do not need to bet the proverbial ranch on it. At first, firms can apply their new risk management process only to a smaller portion of their risk exposure – say, 5% or 10% of their hedge book – and add to that in subsequent periods as the firm, its staff and stakeholders grow more familiar and comfortable with the process and its impact on the firm’s performance.

5. Maintain and refine your operation continuously

Finally, the whole solution, once implemented will almost certainly need adjustments and maintenance. Constant monitoring and periodic reviews must remain an integral part of a firm’s risk management strategy. For this purpose, firms should establish an independent middle office staffed with a team of highly skilled risk professionals who regularly report on exposure and risk issues directly to senior management and the CEO. The challenge of developing and implementing this business process should be no more difficult than that of developing any other business project.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

For this to happen, the communications aspect of the project within the organization may be as important as its operational execution: all parties involved should be offered the opportunity to question and understand the process and be periodically kept informed about its progress and results. While the challenges involved aren’t slight, the objectives and their potential should go far to kindle managers’ entrepreneurial spirits and be well worth their efforts.

If a crisis does arise… solutions will be familiar and mastered

As Milton Friedman famously put it,

it is worth discussing radical changes, not in the expectation that they will be adopted promptly but for two other reasons. One is to construct an ideal goal, so that incremental changes can be judged by whether they move the institutional structure toward or away from that ideal. The other reason is… that if a crisis.. does arise, alternatives will be available that have been carefully developed and fully explored.”

Risk management is no more difficult than any other organizational challenge

The considerable potential of an effective risk management process in terms of profitability and resilience should make any firm’s development initiative well worth the effort. And keep in mind: any practically solvable problem has no chance of remaining unsolved if you make a determination to tackle it. As Johann Wolfgang Goethe put it:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

 

Alex Krainer has actively traded commodities, FX and treasury and equity futures since 1996 and managed hedge funds based on his proprietary trend-following model. Over a six-year period, from 2007 to 2013 he has outperformed Dow Jones Blue Chip index of Managed Futures Funds (track record audited by KPMG). In 2015 he published “Mastering Uncertainty in Commodities Trading” that condenses his 20+ years of deep research into the problem of market speculation.

Description: Trading and hedging commodity price risk

Mastering Uncertainty in Commodities Trading

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