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John Thomas graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry with honors and a minor in mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) in 1974. He moved to Tokyo, Japan where he was employed by a medium-sized Japanese securities house. Thomas became fluent in Japanese... More
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  • Report On The 7th Annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference

    Once again, I am writing to you from the poolside cabana B-2 at the posh Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. It is a baking hot 100 degrees in the shade and the air is bone-dry, so I'm draining my third strawberry daiquiri for the day.

    The days when I risked getting dragged out to the parking lot by some heavies to get my hands broken with a hammer for card counting at blackjack have long since passed. So I am able to relax.

    As with PIMCO's former bond maven, Bill Gross, that's how I worked my way through college, the hard way. How many face cards are still in that deck?

    May Bugsy Siegel Rest in Peace.

    I was sad to hear they closed the famed Riviera Hotel this week, the must go to Las Vegas destination of the late 1950's. My parents fled there for a romantic weekend whenever they could find a babysitter for seven children, which I think was exactly once.

    Today, there are just not enough budget package tours from China, Russia and Japan to keep the crumbling edifice going. Drunken cowboys throwing up into the pool wasn't much of a draw.

    The tattoos seem to be getting bigger and more colorful every year. I am told by the people who know about these things that when a girl dumps her boyfriend, she has to get a bigger tattoo to completely cover up the name of the outgoing one. Frequent fliers eventually end up covered head to toe, much like the tattooed lady at the circus.

    How times have changed.

    As for me, I am a blank canvas.

    I have to tell you that the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference (NYSE:SALT) is the best investment event I have ever attended, bar none, and I eagerly await the annual May event.

    Never have I seen such a concentration of great minds so willing to share with the general trading community market-bending views on all assets classes, long and short.

    This time, I arrived early to catch the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight and to bet on American Pharoah running at the Kentucky Derby. Fighters and horses are my strong suite. Both my bets were winners.

    Some of the best-known speakers were humbled, and almost at a loss for words, addressing the impressive firepower assembled before them, 1,800 of the smartest people in the world.

    Former Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, shared his innermost thoughts, at long last free to say whatever he wanted without sparking extreme market volatility.

    Omega's Leon Cooperman peppered us with his favorite stocks, which always have the habit of doing extremely well. The audience certainly perked up and took note. Last year's tip gained 65%.

    Mohamed El-Erian, advisor to the German financial conglomerate Allianz, warned the audience of the coming liquidity crisis in the bond market. Given the collapse in prices since then, his comments were certainly timely.

    Former Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, (whose father and grandfather both held the high office), gave a unique insider's view of his country's debt crisis.

    Gene Sperling, recently the president's economic advisor, gave us insights into the early years of the Obama administration.

    Unquestionably, the most moving part of the week came when the actor, Michael J. Fox, shared his challenges in dealing with Parkinson's Disease.

    The head of his foundation, Debra W. Brooks, gave us a fascinating look at "high impact philanthropy," and how the efficient allocation of resources is leading to great advances on a wide range of maladies.

    Gyrating all over his seat, the man was clearly dying, and a pall cast over the room. Questions were invited, but there was utter silence.

    So I strode up to the microphone, and thanked him for his courage. I then asked him, "In your 1985 movie "Back to the Future" Marty McFly traveled 30 years into the future in his DeLorean time machine, to October 21, 2015. That date is now only five months off. What do you think of the future we got, where did we fall short, and where did we exceed your expectations?"

    Michael was taken aback by my question, and the entire room burst into laughter. He confided that the flying cars have yet to arrive, but that computer processing capacity has exceeded his wildest imagination.

    The cost for the four day assembly was a bargain at the price, given that you will probably make all of this back, and much more, on your next trade. This is an education that can make, or break, your year, and even a career.

    It spoke volumes that the stock market saw the lowest turnover of the year this week. The running joke is that the markets were dead because the hot money was all in Vegas.

    SALT was hosted by my friend, Anthony Scaramucci, the managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, LLC, a world-class networker and high profile operator in the hedge fund industry.

    Scaramucci is the author of two books, The Little Book of Hedge Funds: What You Need to Know About Hedge Funds but the Managers Won't Tell You, and Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul.

    Meeting the "Mooch"

    SkyBridge Capital is a research driven alternative investment firm with over $13 billion in total assets under advisement or management. It recently opened an office in South Korea.

    The firm offers hedge fund investing solutions that address a wide range of market participants from individual retail investors to large institutions.

    Their businesses include comingled funds of hedge fund products, customized separate account portfolios, and hedge fund advisory services. To learn more about their services, please visit their coolest of all websites at http://www.skybridgecapital.com.

    Andrew, or "The Mooch" to his friends, seems to get better at this game every year. One minute, he is frenetically putting out fires, and the next, coolly introducing the next high profile name in a relaxed and suave manner. Every time I saw him, he was on the way to somewhere in a high speed hustle.

    He is developing into a top rate entertainer in his own right. The first broadcasts of his relaunched Wall Street Week, the once PBS TV show of Louis Rukeyser fame, were aired just prior to the conference, to much applause.

    Unfortunately, there was a total press blackout for all of the marquee names. So most of the high-grade intelligence was for ears only, with "OFF THE RECORD" projected on the gigantic high definition screens in big bold red letters.

    You can't blame these guys for being gun shy. All have been grievously misquoted by the press in the past.

    This can be a dicey problem when their comments are market moving and they already own big positions. With the former world leaders, there is always the chance of an offhand comment creating an international incident.

    Given the choice between restrained, politically correct views approved by compliance heads, public relations departments, or intelligence agencies, and the real, but unquotable, skinny, I'll definitely take the latter.

    You'll learn the market impact of what was said in my coming Trade Alerts.

    I'll give you a quicky hint right now: Use the next dip to double up your cyber security position.

    Non-stop panel discussions kept us all up to date on the many urgent issues facing hedge funds and their investors. Fee discounts for size, once unheard of, are now becoming common. As the industry is rapidly becoming commoditized, prices are dropping.

    There is a rise in the customization of accounts for specific clients. Risk control and transparency have improved dramatically since the 2008 crash. Concerns about the popping of the bond market bubble were almost universal.

    Peripheral to the large conference halls were two vast meeting rooms, one with 100 tables, another with 50 white upholstered sofas. There, an army of young, fresh faced marketing reps sold a panoply of hedge fund products to a flotilla of hardened, craggy faced, and wizened end investors.

    Reading the body language was fascinating. Dozens of small, start up hedge fund managers earnestly articulated their own strategies to potential partners. Every 20 minutes, the buyers of services rotated tables.

    You could almost feel the supercharged energy of the deals getting done and commerce coursing through the air. The participants referred to this whimsically as "speed dating."

    God bless America!

    My New Stock Selection System

    There are now 23 hedge fund strategy categories, some with another half dozen subdivisions. You need a PhD in Higher Mathematics from MIT to understand some of the more abstruse ones.

    Managers can now outsource any service to third party providers, be it compliance, tech support, investor relations, or support staff. The business has been sliced and diced so many ways it is dizzying.

    The elevators hummed with the language of finance; duration, convexivity, alphas, betas, deltas, thetas, and price earnings ratios. Baffled vacationers from the Midwest might have thought they took a wrong turn and landed in ancient Greece by accident.

    At night, the guests were treated to a blowout party around the Bellagio's ornate swimming pool complex. A rock band boomed out the music, and the torsos of dancers gyrated wildly in true bacchanalian fashion.

    A fire breather roamed about singeing the guests, as did elaborately dressed women on stilts wearing fantastic feathered costumes. Tarot card and palm readers were available if you wanted to learn your 2015 performance numbers in advance.

    Comely waitresses served all the iced tequila shots you could drink, which had "headache" written all over them. The hotel wisely stationed lifeguards around the pools in case a drunken reveler fell, or was thrown in.

    I asked one shapely attendant if she would save me if I inadvertently took a plunge, and she cautiously answered "yes".

    It was all a scene worthy of The Great Gatsby.

    Because I recently started posting my pictures on the site, I was mobbed by fans, dispensing some 200 business cards that evening. Why do I feel like the protagonist, Nick Carraway? Or am I the doomed Wall Street titan Jay Gatsby himself?

    I managed to pin down short selling legend, Jim Chanos, telling him he is wrong about China for the umpteenth time. Still, he has already made a fortune there on the downside in recent years, and admitted he did carry some longs there against his shorts.

    No, Jim, You're Wrong!

    When I first jumped into the industry 30 years ago, there were only two dozen hedge funds managing a miniscule amount of money, and we all knew each other. We all used to meet for lunch once a month to trade ideas.

    Most of Wall Street thought we were all crooks. Making money in a falling market? That has to be illegal!

    Now you have 10,000 funds managing $2.7 trillion, accounting for 50%-70% of all trading volume. Pension funds have made the industry respectable, and huge.

    The highlight of the event was a private concert by the boy band, OneRepublic. A production company from Los Angeles hauled out ten truckloads of sound equipment to make it happen with industrial strength. "Watch out, it's going to be LOUD," warned the producer, as he handed me a pair of earplugs.

    I saw one of the richest men in the world casually walk up to the stage to get his ears blasted out, dressed in designer blue jeans, Gucci loafers, and a blue checked shirt with the tails hanging out.

    Girls walked up to shake his hand, and wouldn't let go. Half the women were wearing six-inch stilettos with red soles, meaning they ran a grand a pair.

    The next day, some of the younger kids from marketing were clearly wrecked, and could have walked out of the morning after scene from The Hangover, which was shot at the Bellagio.

    I'm sure they spent the morning shuffling the stacks of business cards they collected, wondering who some of these people were. Ah, the price of youth!

    And who the hell is John Thomas?

    After drinking my meals for four days, I managed to cover all the bases. I even spent time with the hairy chest and silver chain crowd in the lukewarm pool, who leased office space to hedge funds. Business was booming.


    You Meet the Most Interesting People in Las Vegas

    As much as I love the Bellagio, living there for a week gets a bit tiring. Every time I left my room I was assaulted by ringing bells and distant screaming by someone who had just won a fortune on the slots.

    Catching my flight home, I saw a falling down drunk woman wearing only a bikini try to board a flight and punch out a TSA officer when she was turned away.

    Big mistake.

    You meet the nicest people in Las Vegas.

    Oh, did I tell you how hard it is to get your clothes off when they are soaking wet?

    My dry cleaner is going to hate me.

    May 29 10:40 AM | Link | Comment!
  • Play China's Yuan From The Long Side

    One of the oldest games in the foreign exchange market is to always buy the currencies of strong countries that are growing and to sell short the currencies of the weak countries that are shrinking.

    Any doubts that China's Yuan is a huge screaming buy should have been dispelled when news came out that exports have once again started to surge, thanks to the recovery of its largest customer, Europe.

    China's surging exports of electrical machinery, power generation equipment, clothes and steel were a major contributor. Interest rate rises for the Yuan and a constant snugging of bank reserve requirements by the People's Bank of China, have stiffened the backbone of the Middle Kingdom's currency even further.

    That is the price of allowing the Federal Reserve to set China's monetary policy via a semi fixed Yuan exchange rate.

    The last really big currency realignment was a series of devaluations that took the Yuan down from a high of 1.50 to the dollar in 1980. By the mid-nineties, it had depreciated by 84%. The goal was to make exports more competitive. The Chinese succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

    There is absolutely no way that the fixed rate regime can continue and there are only two possible outcomes. An artificially low Yuan has to eventually cause the country's inflation rate to explode. Or a future global economic recovery causes Chinese exports to balloon to politically intolerable levels. Either case forces a revaluation.

    Of course timing is everything. It's tough to know how many sticks it takes to break a camel's back. Talk to senior officials at the People's Bank of China and they'll tell you they still need a weak currency to develop their impoverished economy. Per capita income is still at only $6,000, less than a tenth of that of the US. But that is up a lot from a mere $100 in 1978.

    Talk to senior US Treasury officials and they'll tell you they are amazed that the Chinese peg has lasted this long. How many exports will it take to break it? $1.5 trillion, $2 trillion, $2.5 trillion? It's anyone's guess.

    One thing is certain. A free floating Yuan would be at least 50% higher than it is today, and possibly 100%. In fact, the desire to prevent foreign hedge funds from making a killing in the market is not a small element in Beijing's thinking.

    The Chinese government says it won't entertain a revaluation for the foreseeable future. The Americans say they need it tomorrow. To me that means it's coming.

    Buy the Yuan ETF, the (NYSEARCA:CYB). Just think of it as an ETF with an attached lottery ticket. If the Chinese continue to stonewall, you will get the token 3%-4% annual revaluation they are thought to tolerate. Double that with margin, and your yield rises to 6%-10%, not bad in this low yielding world. Since the chance of the Chinese devaluing is nil, that beats the hell out of the zero interest rates you now get with T-bills.

    If they cave, then you could be in for a home run.

    Ready for a Long Term Relationship with China?

    Tags: CYB, FXI
    May 29 10:37 AM | Link | 1 Comment
  • Why Are The Markets Going Crazy?

    You would think that with US interest rates spiking up, as they have done for the past month, the US dollar would be strong. After all, interest rate differentials are the principal driver of foreign exchange rates.

    But you would be wrong. The greenback has in fact pared 12% off its value against the Euro (NYSEARCA:FXE) during this period.

    You also could be forgiven for thinking that weak economic growth, like the kind just confirmed by poor data in Q1, would deliver to us a rocketing bond market (NYSEARCA:TLT) and falling yields.

    But you would be wrong again.

    The harsh reality is that an entire range of financial markets have been trading the opposite of their fundamentals since April.

    Have markets lost their moorings? Do fundamentals no longer account for anything?

    Have the markets gone crazy?

    It's a little more complicated than that, as much as we would like to blame Mr. Market for all our failings.

    Fundamentals are always the driver of assets prices over the long term. By this, I mean the earnings of companies, the GDP growth rates for the economies that back currencies, and the supply and demand for money in the bond market.

    Geopolitics can have an influence as well, but only to the extent that they affect fundamentals. Usually, their impact is only psychological and brief (ISIS, the Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan).

    However, and this is the big however, repositioning by big traders can overwhelm fundamentals and drive asset prices anywhere from seconds to months.

    This is one of those times.

    You see this in the simultaneous unwind of enormous one-way bets, that for a time, looked like everyone's free lunch and rich uncle.

    I'm talking about the historic longs accumulated in the bond markets over decades, not only in the US, but in Europe, Japan and emerging markets as well.

    Treasury bonds have been going up for so long, some three decades, that the vast majority of bond portfolio managers and traders have never seen them go down.

    A frighteningly vast number of investment strategies are based on the assumption that prices never fall for more than a few months at a time.

    This is a problem, because bond prices can fall for more than a few months at a time, as they did like a lead balloon during the high inflation days from 1974 to 1982.

    I traded Eurobonds during this time, and the free lunch then was to be short US Treasuries up the wazoo, especially low coupon paper. That trade will return someday, although not necessarily now.

    What is making the price action even more dramatic this time around is the structural decline in market liquidity, which I out lined in glorious detail in my letter last week (The Liquidity Crisis Coming to a Market Near You). You are seeing exactly the same type of repositioning moves occurring right now in the Euro/dollar trade.

    I have been playing the Euro from the side for the past seven years, when it briefly touched $1.60.

    All you had to do was spend time on the continent, and it was grotesquely obvious that the currency was wildly overvalued relative to the state of its horrendously weak currency.

    Unfortunately, it took the European Central Bank nearly a decade to get the memo that the only way out of their economic problems was to collapse the value of the Euro with an aggressive program of quantitative easing.

    This they figured out only last summer. By then, the Euro had already fallen to $1.40. After that, it quickly becomes a one-way bet, as every junior trader started unloading Euros with both hands. The result was to compress five years worth of depreciation into seven months.

    Extreme moves in asset prices are always followed by long periods of digestion, or boring narrow range trading.

    This is what you are getting now with the Euro. This is why I covered all my Euro shorts in April and went long, much to the satisfaction of my readers (click here for the Trade Alert). I have since taken profits on those longs, and am now short again (click here for that Trade Alert).

    I think it could take six months of consolidation, or more, until we take another run at parity for the greenback.

    The rally in the continental currency is taking place not because the economic fundamentals have improved, although they have modestly done so.

    It has transpired because traders are taking profits on aged short positions, or stopping out of new positions at a loss because they were put on too late.

    The Euro will remain strong only until this repositioning finishes, and the short term money is either flat on the Euro, or is long.

    It will only be then that the fundamentals kick in, and we resume the downside once again.

    I think it could take six months of consolidation, or more, until we take another run at parity for the greenback.

    As I used to tell me staff at my hedge fund, if this were easy, everyone would be doing it, and it would pay peanuts. So quit complaining and get used to it.

    Tags: TLT, FXE, EUO
    May 29 10:32 AM | Link | Comment!
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