DiMartino Booth, Money Strong

When K.I.S.S. Fails – Private Equity on the Razor’s Edge

Don’t you wish every day was Turnaround Tuesday? That’s the clever term coined by a buddy of mine at Citi who sadly cannot be named and take proper credit. But it is a great term to describe the pattern that’s emerged in this year’s first quarter, a three-month span most market players were relieved to see written into the history books.

As for what’s to come, the scent of spring is decidedly in the air. Car sales hit it out of the park in March thanks in no small part to a cordial calendar which provided 20% more Saturdays than 2017 did. Incentives that would make a Mad Man blush and rising interest rates did their fair share as well.

To commemorate the season’s good tidings, General Motors’ executives have, for the sake of our collective auditory intake, dialed back the volume on the noise by reducing the frequency with which they report sales to a quarterly basis, down from what had been a monthly pace since the 90s. To think how swimmingly that worked out for retailers. How very thoughtful indeed.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s become deathly quiet in Tokyo’s bond trading pits. According to the Wall Street Journal, a brand spanking new 10-year issued March 13th didn’t trade…at all, the seventh such instance in 24 years of record keeping.

A well-kept secret closer to home is that the Federal Reserve wasn’t necessarily keen to taper its QE purchases back in 2014. No, the move was a bit more forced on the doves as market functionality was jeopardized because the Fed was buying such a huge slug of Treasury and MBS issuance.

Could the same hindrances be at work in Japan? Or has Kuroda seen the light and acknowledged that QE is as futile an endeavor as any ever undertaken by a central bank? My money is on the former.

Every month, the University of Michigan queries households on what they’re hearing in the news, good or bad. According to Dr. Gates, my eagle-eyed economist friend, something rather unusual happened in March. Upper-income households perceptions of the news swung 50 points from positive to negative.

How unusual, you ask? It is after all, just bluster and talk, not a full-blown trade war. Right? Let’s just say the biggest spenders in an economy that runs on spending aren’t convinced this will blow over. What’s particularly telling is the other three instances in history where such a huge swing has been recorded. That would be November 1987, which needs no explanation; July 2002, when accounting scandals wracked markets; and August 2011, when a no confidence vote on Uncle Sam jolted investors. File that where you like.

Speaking of friends, I would be remiss to not share the infinite wisdom of my good friend Peter Boockvar. He recently made the observation that we no longer live from one economic or business cycle to the next, but we rather ride one credit cycle after another according to the ebbs and flows of monetary policy. If you can’t appreciate the distinction, consider that in the pre-Greenspan world, the Fed’s hiking and easing campaigns made saving cash more or less appealing. Since 1987, however, the virtue of saving has been annihilated altogether, by design. Kind of gets under your skin.

Along those same lines, has all of this private equity fund raising begun to irritate you? “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered” anyone? For more on what’s driving the fee-fest, please enjoy this week’s installment, When K.I.S.S. Fails: Private Equity on the Razor’s Edge.

Hoping you’re not still circling foggy La Guardia in the sky and wishing you well,


PS. Please enjoy my latest Bloomberg column which highlights where the smart money is these days (Spoiler alert: it’s not in the stock market) in Powell Shows Markets Won’t Be Rattled by Volatility.


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