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By: Brian Price
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The Francis Bacon painting "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" was sold for a whopping $142.4 million as part of a $691.6 million Christie's sale on Tuesday night, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.
Some argue that the sale is giving us a message about inflation that investors aren't getting from the action in gold, the Dollar Index, or the government's official consumer price index data.
"Asset inflation took another leg higher last night," wrote Peter Boockvar in a Wednesday morning note. "Thank you Federal Reserve, and thank you Bureau of Labor Statistics for not including art in the consumer price index."
The traditional measures of inflation have shown little decrease in the value of a dollar. The Dollar Index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of four other currencies, is barely higher on the year. Gold, which is thought to track inflation, is 24 percent lower. And the consumer price index produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows only a small increase in 2013.
But Francis Bacon inflation is booming. In May of 2008, another Bacon triptych (meaning a three-panel piece of art) was sold for a mere $86 million. And while every work is different, the fact that the more recently sold triptych garnered 66 percent more money is notable.
By contrast, the CPI has only increased by 9 percent since then (though it may be worth noting that the price of actual bacon, a CPI component, has risen by 56 percent).
"It's indicative of the time," Boockvar, the chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, told CNBC.com. "Stocks and bonds and rare comic books and high-end New York City apartments are all doing the same thing. What we're seeing is massive asset price inflation generated by what the Fed is doing. And while they continue to want us to look at the lack of consumer price inflation, asset price inflation is just inflation under a different name."
The Winklevoss twins may say that bitcoin resembles "gold 2.0," but CEO of Euro Pacific Capital and Peter Schiff says the somewhat mysterious online currency more closely resembles tulip mania 2.0.
"A bubble is a bubble," he said. "And there's a bubble in bitcoins."
Schiff was responding to comments made by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who have invested a great deal in bitcoins and are attempting to start a bitcoin exchange-traded fund. (They also happen to be well-known for suing Mark Zuckerberg over the creation of Facebook.)
On Tuesday's "Squawk Box," Cameron Winklevoss said that "some definitely view it as gold 2.0," adding, "In terms of a store of value, it definitely has the properties of gold, and people are viewing it that way."
(Read more: Winklevosses: Bitcoin worth at least 100 times more)
But on the Tuesday episode of "Futures Now." Schiff, a longtime investor in gold, literally laughed at the comparison.
"I don't see bitcoins as an alternative to gold," he said. "If anything, [the creators of bitcoin are] modern-day alchemists, but you can't make gold digitally. It's no better than a fiat currency."
Schiff said that what he does see in the peer-to-peer currency—whose value has risen from $13.50 in January to $375 on Tuesday—is a bubble.
Traders and strategists say the market rally is likely to continue through December for a deceptively simple reason: Stocks have rallied significantly all year, and those gains are likely to beget further gains.
The market "should do pretty well into the end of the year," writes Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group. "There's plenty of cash that probably feels it should get off the bench, and so many managers have underperformed in 2013 that many of them will probably want to look fully invested by December 31."
In other words, since most fund managers have returned less than the market, there will be a temptation to buy into the end of the year to try to capture some last-minute gains—or at least make it look like they have owned the winners all year.
"Year-end melt-up, here we come," Colas continued in a recent note.
After all, owning anything other than stocks has not been a winning maneuver in 2013.
"Commodities and bonds have given investors little or no return this year, while the S&P is up 20 percent," points out Anthony Grisanti of GRZ Energy and a CNBC contributor. "If you would have invested in gold over the same period, you would be down over 20 percent."
The surprisingly positive October jobs data that was released at 8:30 a.m. EST hurt the bond market, but it must have been especially painful for those who bought bond futures seconds ahead of the report. At 8:29 a.m. EST, five-year note futures soared to a nearly five-month high—before losing all those gains, and then some, to hit a three-week low. Ten-year note futures similarly moved much higher before dropping.
The move was so powerful that it led the CME, the exchange on which Treasury futures trade, to automatically pause trading. CME Group told CNBC.com that a "velocity logic event" was triggered, meaning that the market was automatically paused because of an extreme move. Not only was the five-year Treasury note paused, but the 30-year Treasury bond and the 30-year Ultra Treasury bond were paused as well. The 30-year was paused first, starting at 8:29:57 a.m. EST and ending at 8:30:02. The five-year note pause began at 8:30:01, and ended at 8:30:06.
The 204,000 jobs created in October, which was well above expectations, fostered perceptions that the Federal Reserve will reduce its $85 billion monthly bond-buying program earlier than it otherwise would have. As a result, bond prices dropped, and Treasury yields rose.
But at literally the last minute before the report was released, five-year note futures advanced to the highest intraday level since June 19.
Bill Fleckenstein says that investors who buy into the stock market at all-time highs are making a grave error. Comparing the current situation to the infamous bubbles of 1999 and 2007, the noted contrarian and short seller says that bulls are ignoring fundamentals at their own peril.
"People are, once again, being fooled," Fleckenstein said on Thursday's episode of "Futures Now." "In the stock mania in 1999, people were bullish because stocks were going up. In 2007, people were bullish because stocks and real estate were going up. They didn't look at—Why are they going up? Is this sustainable? Is this healthy?—and in both cases, it was not."
In this case, the bubble Fleckenstein points to is powered not by tech stocks or real estate, but by the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program.
(Read more: What is the Fed talking about?)
"Now we have the Fed suppressing the bond market such that rates are ridiculously low, and capital is being misallocated everywhere, and the price of nearly everything is out of whack," Fleckenstein said.
But he says the Fed is starting to lose control already—meaning that stocks could crack even if the Fed continues to buy $85 billion worth of assets each month.
It may be rare for a fund manager to talk down the very asset class he's investing in. But bond fund manager Stewart Cowley is so bearish on bonds, he's actually taken a net short position that benefits when bonds drop.
"The bond bear market started in August 2012, and frankly, long-term interest rates should be about 1.5 percent higher than they are today," Cowley said on "Futures Now" on Tuesday. "And that means substantial capital losses coming in what is a rigged market in the United States."
When Cowley says the market is "rigged," he's referring the to outsized role played by the Federal Reserve. The Fed has been buying $45 billion worth of Treasurys and $40 billion worth of mortgage bonds every month. This has boosted Treasury prices, and suppressed yields.
(Read more: Bond prices fall as US services data surprise)
But Cowley, who is the head of fixed income at Old Mutual Global Investors, predicts that this quantitative easing program will soon come to a close.
"The process has reached an end now," Cowley said. "The reality is the America doesn't need quantitative easing anymore."
Famed energy trader Mark Fisher says that given crude oil's recent decline and the overwhelming bearishness in the oil market, he's just about ready to get long.
"I think it's worth trying to pick a bottom and test the long side," Fisher said on Tuesday's "Futures Now." "Everyone is just bearish. The whole universe is bearish ... but I'd wait a couple more days just to inflict a little more pain on the longs before taking a stab."
Since hitting at high above $112 per barrel on Aug. 28, oil has dropped some 17 percent. And on Tuesday, oil fell for the sixth straight day to settle at $93.37—the lowest close since early June.
With the market getting hit this hard, Mark Fisher, the founder and CEO of MBF Clearing, spies an opportunity.
"I'm under the belief that you should be a buyer below $95 and a seller above $115, because I think we're stuck in a range," Fisher said. "And obviously I think that this market going down is giving you an opportunity to get long."
(Read more: Here's what will determine crude's next move: Pro)
Natural gas is now trading at the lowest level since August and is poised to break below the key $3.40 level. It has been a rough road for the fuel, but with so much working against it, things could get worse before they get better.
The main problem is that demand has failed to materialize in any sustained way. Looking at long-term weather forecasts, moderate temperatures will be in place for most of the country through November.
Crude oil has continued to trade to new swing lows, and on Monday morning it is trading below the major $94.76 level. This is the lowest level we have seen since June, and at this point, the $93.71 level from June 26 will be seen as the next level of support.
So what has driven crude down so sharply from late August, when it made a high above $112?
First, any geopolitical tensions have largely left the market. Second, inventory data have been bearish, as we have seen a continued build in supply. Third, the knowledge that the Federal Reserve will have to begin tapering its bond purchases has led to a stronger dollar, and consequently hurt crude.
(Read more: Libya may deepen Brent's premium over US oil)
With both the pace of economic growth and the Federal Reserve's next move up in the air, traders say that this week's trading will be dominated by the expectations around, and the reaction to, Friday's employment report.
"It's definitely going to be the jobs report that I'm keeping my eye on, and it's too bad we have to wait till Friday, because I think it's going to make for a very choppy week of trading coming up," said Anthony Grisanti of GRZ Energy. "I think that a lot of traders are just going to focus on that, so you'll see volumes very low."
The jobs report is doubly important, because it will not just give investors an estimate of how many jobs were created in October—it will also help determine the Federal Reserve's next move.
In its Wednesday statement, the Federal Open Market Committee said that it would maintain its $85 billion monthly asset-purchasing program, but noted: "The Committee sees the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions since it began its asset purchase program. ... However, the Committee decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases."
(Read more: The market is getting the Fed all wrong: Nomura)
Economists expect to see 125,000 jobs added according to the nonfarm payrolls metric, which would be the second-lowest number of jobs added of 2013. But as the FOMC indicated, if employment growth suddenly gets much stronger, then the Fed is likely to taper sooner rather than later, which could be very damaging for the market.
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