March 05, 2012

Hugh Hendry bought CDS on Japanese Corporations

Hugh Hendry of Eclectica Asset Management: Clearly, they can and do go bust. I’m buying the CDS on investment-grade Japanese corporations because of the overpricing anomaly. Japan had a bust 20 years ago, and yet today the banking stocks, relative to (Japanese bourse) Topix, are making fresh lows.
If I’m a Japanese bank and I lend money to a new business, I get 1% on 10-year paper. Then the bank gets a call from me, and I’m willing to pay 50 basis points for five-year protection on this same company. So suddenly, the yield has gone from 1% to 1½%. Compare that to five-year Japanese government bonds, yielding 30 basis points. The bank thinks: This is a great trade! Japanese steel companies are investment-grade and won’t go bankrupt. So, the bank gets this huge yen yield, and thinks it is not taking any risk. You’d better believe it will sell way too much of that good thing.
One of my partners told me about Japanese steel: Here is a country with no energy, no iron ore or coal, yet it’s the largest exporter of steel in the world, exports half its output. To put that in context, China manufactures 700 million tons of steel and exports perhaps 30 million. Japan produces 110 million tons and exports 40 million. As long as Asia is strong, they are fine. But if Asia hiccups or reverses, plant-utilization rates go from very high to very, very low very quickly.
Then we discovered that Warren Buffett owned shares of South Korea’s Posco [5490.S. Korea], and that Korea was the biggest importer of Japanese steel, but Posco and Hyundai [5380.S. Korea] are building huge, integrated steel plants. They have a surplus of steel capacity and—guess what?—they’re exporting to Japan, because the yen is so strong.
Initially, I wanted to buy a three-year, out-of-the-money put on Nippon Steel. My broker said, “I’ve been in a 20-year bear market; my boss will kill me.” Then I thought, being long credit protection is being long volatility. I redialed his credit counterpart. I said: “I’m thinking of purchasing up to a billion yen of five-year credit-default swaps in Nippon Steel.” The first thing he said was, “Would you consider 10 billion?” So one part of the bank is banned from selling volatility, and the other part is having a party. I bought reams of the stuff.

Hugh Hendry is a fund manager at Eclectica Asset Management. He has become prominent in the United Kingdom for his commentary on the financial crisis. Hendry has been referred to as "the most high-profile Scot in the controversial (Hedge Fund) sector."