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Kyle Bass gets it wrong on Japanese bonds

This is a good interview with Kyle Bass because it cuts to the heart of the matter. If you are a partisan in the Bass debate on Japan, you can see him as being either correct or incorrect. Now, I have covered this before and I have stressed that he is looking to make an asymmetric bet on outlier events to hedge his market-long portfolio. He is not taking a flyer via outsized risk exposure to short JGB trades. And Bass does make this clear in his commentary. Nonetheless, his macro view of the way interest-rate targeting central banks operate in a fiat currency system is completely wrong. 

The Japanese situation is all about policy rates, expected future policy rates, expected inflation and currency depreciation. It’s not about bond vigilantes forcing a sovereign currency issuer to pay extortionate rates on its own currency obligations. Currency revulsion? As I have said time and again, the currency is the release valve. And we are seeing that with Japan as I predicted. The Yen is getting crushed and rates are falling. In Japan, the 5-year is down 10 basis points, the 10-year is down 44 basis points and the 30-year is down 56 bps points in the last year alone! Where’s the stress that Bass points to? He is totally out of paradigm. It’s about policy rates, expected policy rates and inflation. That’s it. The bond vigilante stuff is a myth – just like it is in the UK, by the way.

That said, how much lower can rates go, really? This is Bass’ ONLY saving grace. Maybe Bass’ bet will work, if and when the Bank of Japan successfully reflates in conjunction with the deficit spending and structural reforms that together make up Abenomics. But, in that case, the reflation will probably have been wanted. I am sceptical that Armageddon is coming to Japan now or in the medium term.

Video and partial transcript below.

Source: BLOOMBERG TELEVISION 

Bass on Japan:

“I actually think it’s the beginning of the end…When you have 20 years of pro-cyclicality of thought manifesting itself in the way that it has in Japan…I am not naive enough to think I can predict the end of a 70-year debt super cycle with any kind of precision, but looking at the changes in the qualitative perception of the participants is something that I think is key to the situation and we saw a big change on Friday.”

“When I started sharing our views more globally it was the middle of 2010 and I said I believe the stress would begin to show itself in the next three years. Pretty much three years in, we’re close, and the stress is beginning to show. Maybe that was luck at the time, but now when you ask the timing–look everyone wants the crystal ball and it’s really difficult to predict this, but what you can do is follow where I think the stresses are going to show in the marketplace, but more importantly, you have to get into the heads of the participants because they all have a collective sense of fatalism. When you do the quantitative analysis here, you know they are insolvent. Everyone who owns the bonds knows they are insolvent. It’s a question of how long they can hang on. What changes their views are a multitude of variables, but it’s really important to follow any change in those views. When you see things like Argentina, Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy–you see how fast things go from perfectly stable to completely unstable. In this case I think it will happen more quickly because of the 20 year buildup.”

On Hayman Capital having strong performance overall when it has a trade that, even if it’s right, takes a while:

“When we think about the globe, I think about positioning. When you invest in a fiduciary like myself or someone else, you want someone that has the courage of their convictions. You want someone that is not particularly dogmatic. And if they are, you want to think about risk management. It is really important to size things properly. So far, knock on wood, I think you have to be as thoughtful as you can possibly be on the construct of the position and not set yourself up for many years of losses until something like this happens.”

“It’s really important to think about the capital at risk in your strategy and the construct of how you put these kinds of hedges into place. We have 90+% of our money is long–long U.S. structured credit, U.S. mortgages, U.S. stocks–they majority of our capital is long.”

On structured credit and the importance of being very liquid in the long side:

“Believe it or not it’s really liquid right now. With Bernanke pinning rates at zero and the entire world continues to chase yield. Our indices are being led by utilities and things that don’t particularly lead us into new highs, it’s because of their dividend yield. So the whole world continues to chase yield. Structured credit and even mortgage credit are one of the most liquid areas in the marketplace today. People can’t get enough of them. Even in subprime credit, 97% of the 20,000 line items are still rated below investment grade. They’re still junk. The ratings-based buyers aren’t even there yet. The money is being misallocated by the printing press.”

On gold:

“We have always had a position in gold. When you think about the largest central banks in the world, they have all moved to unlimited printing ideology. Monetary policy happens to be the only game in town. I am perplexed as to why gold is as low as it is. I don’t have a great answer for you other then you should maintain a position.”

On George Soros’ recent statements that he’s losing interest in gold:

“George has been a much better investor than I over the years. When you think about the global monetary base, it is north of $70 trillion. All the gold in existence is around $7-8 trillion. There might be $1.2-1.3 trillion of investable gold. At some point in time, I would much rather would own gold than paper. I just don’t know when that time is.”

On whether he’d rather own gold than U.S. treasuries:

“I do. If something happens in Japan like we think it is going to happen, I think U.S. Treasury nominal yields will go negative in a flight to quality. maybe gold moves up and Treasuries actually get much stronger for all the wrong reasons, not as an endorsement of U.S. fiscal policy because it is the only place money has to go…If monetary policy is the only game in town, we are all in for a world of trouble. That is the way we see it.”

On residential mortgage-backed securities:

“That investment is working…The various concentric circles surrounding housing not getting worse, which is how we think about it. We are not expecting it to get materially better, just not to get worse. The services sectors, the new mortgage insurance companies, the things that are actually asymmetric investments you can make around the housing market not worsening are where the majority of our long side of our portfolio is.”

On the future of Fannie and Freddie:

“I have no clue…We decided to just exit, thinking about them when you meet with both sides of the aisle, they both want a bullet in their head. Typically when that happens you get a bullet in your head. The second thing we were thinking about, if you remember there was a proposal to start raising the g-fees. There is a way for the U.S. Treasury to get paid back all of the money they’ve pumped into Fannie and Freddie if they start raising g-fees.”

About 

Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.

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