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Thursday, March 20, 2008 2:48 AM

World Of Uncertainty

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History is supposed to rhyme not repeat. But in a here we go again scenario John Meriwether's Bond Fund Loses 24% on Credit-Market Plunge.

JWM Partners LLC, the investment firm run by ex-Long-Term Capital Management LP chief John Meriwether, lost 24 percent in its $1 billion fixed-income hedge fund this year through March 14, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Meriwether's Relative Value Opportunity fund was hurt as bond managers such as Peloton Partners LLP and Carlyle Capital Corp. were forced to sell securities to meet margin calls, said the investors, who asked not to be identified because JWM doesn't publicly disclose returns. The Greenwich, Connecticut- based firm, which is selling holdings to reduce borrowings and lower risk, didn't have any loans called, they said.

"There's been a lot of forced de-leveraging," said Benjamin Sarly, head of marketing at Sanno Point Capital Management in New York, a relative-value credit fund.

Meriwether declined to comment.
For more on Long Term Capital Management and John Meriwether please see Genius Fails Again.

The Great Unwind

In a better late than never message Citigroup warns The Great Unwind Has Begun.
The Great Unwind has begun, Citigroup Inc. strategists warned on Wednesday.

As markets and economies de-leverage across the globe, investors should avoid companies and countries that have grown to rely too much on borrowed money, they said.

That means favoring public-equity markets over hedge funds, private-equity and real estate, while leaning toward emerging market countries and away from developed nations like the U.S., the bank's global equity strategy team advised.

Within equity markets, the financial-services should be avoided because it's still over-leveraged, while other companies have stronger balance sheets, the strategists said.

During the last credit crisis in 1998, European banks were leveraged 26 to 1. In the early part of this decade, leverage grew to 32 to 1. Now the sector is geared 40 to 1 on average, according to Citi's European bank research team.

"The banks have a long way to go," the strategists said. "We would continue to avoid the sector while they are de-leveraging."

"We are now confronted by a broad bloodbath in the credit markets," Citigroup said. " The most leveraged paper is falling in value because it is leveraged, and now the least leveraged paper is also falling in value because it is owned by leveraged investors."

Investors should also avoid hedge funds themselves, along with private equity, Citi added. Both types of investment rely at least partly on borrowed money to generate returns.

"The U.S. shows up as the world's greatest consumer of external capital," Citi noted. So it "has the most to lose as this capital becomes less freely available."
The above is as close as you will ever see to a bank putting a sell recommendation on itself.

A World Of Uncertainty

ReportOnBusiness is writing about A World Of Uncertainty.
The rules of the game have now changed. Our global financial system has become so complex and opaque that we've moved from a world of risk to a world of uncertainty. In a world of risk, we can judge dangers and opportunities by using the best evidence at hand to estimate the probability of a particular outcome. But in a world of uncertainty, we can't estimate probabilities, because we don't have any clear basis for making such a judgment. In fact, we might not even know what the possible outcomes are. Surprises keep coming out of the blue, because we're fundamentally ignorant of our own ignorance. We're surrounded by unknown unknowns.

Commentators and policy-makers are still talking in terms of risk. Markets, they say, need to reassess and reassign risk across securities and companies. But, in reality, markets are now operating under uncertainty. No one really knows where the boundaries of the problem lie, what surprises are in store, or what measures will be adequate to stop the bleeding. And the U.S. Fed is making policy on the fly.

We do know, however, that we're not dealing with a liquidity problem. We face a massive solvency problem: Banks and investment firms aren't so much worried about financing their next investment; instead, they fear for their survival, because core assets - particularly loans on their books - have been suddenly and dramatically devalued. In this environment, the tools available to central bankers may not work. You can encourage people to borrow by pumping money into the economy, but you can't force people to lend.
You can't force people to lend. That is certainly one of the deflation arguments. But is uncertainty the reason or are the market participants finally realizing that in a world awash in overcapacity there is simply no good reason to lend and no legitimate reason to borrow?

From a practical standpoint it really does not make much difference. Without lending there is no economic expansion and there is no job creation. And while there may be world of uncertainty about what debt instruments are worth, there is still this certainty: The great unwind is in progress, it is nowhere near complete, and the entire process is going to be both long and painful.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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