In what has become one of the most widely read and distributed of our posts, we first introduced the world to the intricacies of legal 'subordination' and protection among European bonds back in January of this year (and reaffirmed it specifically for Spain in early June). This strategy proved exceptionally successful in the case of Greece, and has, in recent weeks, also done extremely well in the case of Spain. Since we first noted it, the local-law Spanish 2029s are down over 14% while the non-local 'UK-law' Spanish 2029s have managed to gain 1.1% providing arbitrageurs with a massive profit on a duration-matched low-capital pairs trade. More importantly, for all the European fixed income asset managers who owe their clients as least some fiduciary duty, we can only hope they rotated to the non-domestic-law bonds before early May - when trouble really hit. While gloating on one's success at non-vaporizing cash once again is not our way, we much more critically note that one can read the fundamentals (as opaque as they are and known to everyone) or one can look at what the market is saying. What it is saying is that the differential between UK- and non-UK-law bonds has been crushed and is absolutely on a path to repeat the Greek PSI experience. There is plenty of room left for the trade since the UK-law bonds will likely be taken out at Par (just as with GGBs) while Spain's PSI is just as likely to be the 20s/30s - and any TROIKA funding will prime everyone but the UK-Law bonds.
The coincidence of comments from Germany - both the Bundestag's Hasselfeldt "If a country is not in a position to fulfill its obligations, or is unwilling to, then it must leave the Euro zone"; and vice-Chancellor Philip Roesler (of the FDP) to the effect that the dangers associated with a Greek exit had faded - and the IMF (which has been suspect for a while in its 'steadfastness' with regard Greece, seem to suggest as UBS notes, that there is notable suspicion of collusion among the politicians to apply pressure to the Hellenic Republic. Against becoming too concerned there is the Realpolitik of the Euro area. Decisions about the direction of the Euro project are taken by a very small coterie of political leaders within the Euro area, and we should be concerned not necessarily because of the specifics of the comment or the associated “hardball” bargaining stance, but because politicians still feel that comments like this can be made at all without fear of repercussions. As silly season is set to begin, we should prepare for the impact of politicians need to hear themselves speak.
The CME, which is seeing an unprecedented exodus in trading and clients due to the recent fiascoes at MF Global and Peregrine Financial, and which is completely helpless to do anything about what is fundamentally a core feature of modern US 'capital markets', has resorted to the last ditch effort of every failing enterprise: writing and mailing letters to clients full of hollow promises. "We want you to know that CME Group is committed to making whatever changes are necessary to strengthen customer protections, restore confidence in the futures industry and ensure the effectiveness of these critical markets." Or until the next MFG or PFG at least. Sorry: too little, too late.
The long-term seasonal data for gold and oil has not just remained relatively highly correlated over time but, as Barclays points out today, has very clear periods of bearishness, consolidation, and bullishness. While Gold may have another month of treading water, the period from September to mid-October is empirically bullish while Brent's August to mid-October period is the most bullish segment of the year. Given gold's stability in the past month or so since the EU Summit, and oil's surge (and modest pull-back very recently), seasonals certainly provide some technical support for BTFD here in these QE-sensitive, real assets.
Far be it from us to reflect Schadenfreude here but at the time of the squeezefest leading up to and after the announcement of the lipstick-on-a-pig US Stress Tests in mid-March, when CDS were remaining wide and hardly budged, we questioned the reality of the assumptions and the lack of contagion comprehension. Most critically, in the 4 months since that wondrous day when all was proved great in the world of US banking, the major financials are down a stupendous 25% on average with Wells Fargo taking over the mantle of least used bed-pan in the E-Coli ward - at an unimpressive unchanged since 3/13.
Hopefully nobody will be surprised to learn that after Spanish bonds closed at all time records earlier, just shy of 7.50%, that LCH has decided to hike margins on not only Spanish bonds, in the 7-30 year duration windows (from 11.80% to 12.20% for the benchmark 10 Year), but also on Italian bonds, at both the short and long-end, which are now also rapidly approaching the 7% threshold, pushing the 7-10 Year duration window from 9.50% to 11.65%, and which will approach it much faster now that there will be even more forced margin selling to cover collateral calls.
The European Union has been, in a very real sense, like a masquerade ball. The intricately painted masks covering manipulated stress tests, hiding inaccurate debt to GDP ratios, falsified accounting practices, glossing over any sort of contingent liabilities as if the scars were not there and double counting assets however, like all extravaganzas of this type, is about to reach a conclusion. The night has been long and the hour is late but one by one the masks are being removed and the characters are seen for what they are; a less than pretty sight. There are negative yields in the short maturities for Germany, France and the Netherlands which might soon be found in the United States. We are not sure what Mr. Bernanke will make of institutions paying him to leave their money with the United States government but it will be a classic example of a point in time where “Return OF Capital” became much more important that “Return ON Capital” but as we have asserted time and time again, given the 36% loss of wealth during the American Financial Crisis, that “Preservation of Capital,” are manifestly the byword of the Faith at present.
No doubt, Eastern Europe is a part of the world where people are accustomed to being abused by politicians. After decades of Soviet Rule, the cultures in places like Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Belarus, etc. have been inculcated with a strong mistrust of government. All government. One obvious sign of this is how little confidence people have in their own national currencies. Here in Ukraine, for example, people who have any level of wealth whatsoever hold hard currency– dollars and euros, rather than the local hryvna. (Naturally, their relative confidence in dollars and euros is misplaced, though I was pleased to see that gold is starting to penetrate the cultural psyche here.) They even have a funny nickname for these regional currencies that get inflated and devalued by corrupt central bankers and politicians– rabbits… because they grow and multiply in such huge numbers so quickly. As two different economics students this weekend told me, ‘we are starting to look at the US dollar in the same way…’ I guess that makes the euro a dodo bird.
While Monti claims there is no need for an emergency summit and Spain and Italy ban short-sellers (but not long-sellers yet), Europe's Dow-equivalent is down around 2.5%. Interestingly Italy and Spain 'bounced' off ugly lows intraday (which we are sure Monti/Rajoy are patting themselves on the back briefly) but France's CAC40 and Germany's DAX were sold hard - both down around 3% (as proxies as much as contagion-gatherers). More critically, equities are catching down to European credit markets. European financial credit is now notably wider than pre-Summit levels but it is the front-end of the Spanish and Italian sovereign yield curves that has been absolutely monkey-hammered in the last few days. Spain 2Y is now at 16 year highs in yield (biggest 1- and 2-day jumps in over two years) but all-time record wides in spread as we await for the ultimate death cross of inversion to signal the approaching endgame. EURUSD hovered around 1.2100 (down around 50 pips from Friday) and while oil prices slumped, Brent priced in EUR remains above its levels 2 months ago. Meanwhile, Swiss 2Y rates are at a new record low of -44.4bps, German 2Y same at -8bp, and Denmark remains -31bps - though we do note some of the other higher quality 2Ys leaking a little higher in yield such as Austria and France.
The effect on the USA of its casually wandering over the Fiscal Cliff will be catastrophic; adding approximately $607bln to the US deficit which in turn would sap anywhere up to 4% (according to the CBO) or possibly even 5% (if Chairman Bernanke—in full-on ‘scare Congress’ mode—is to be believed) from US GDP and send the country crashing into outright recession (or further into recession depending on how things continue to deteriorate in the coming months). “That we cannot have” was the opinion of Erskine Bowles who, along with former Sen. Alan Simpson, devised a debt reduction plan last year to prevent this doomsday scenario.... According to the OMB estimates, any attempt to do something remotely meaningful will result in at least a percentage point reduction in US GDP, which is fine in a world of 3% growth, but today that 1% is not something these guys have to play around with. In the run-up to December 31, you can guarantee that the issue of the US Fiscal Cliff will replace Europe as the major concern facing the world in general and the US in particular and, if things continue to deteriorate at their current pace, anything that will lead to even a 0.5% cut inGDP will be seen as a disaster.
"The drought that has settled over more than half of the continental United States this summer is the most widespread in more than half a century," and as the New York Times points out "is likely to grow worse." However, a glance at the last 112 years' June 'drought' conditions does not suggest this is a systemic trend (a la global warming) - with notably drier/hotter periods in the past - but we do note some interesting analogs as drought conditions as epic as the current one evolve and fade: from 1936-1938 the Dow fell almost 50%; from 1955-1957 the Dow fell over 18% (11% p.a.); and 1987 of course saw a 40% plunge. "It’s got the potential to be the worst drought we’ve ever had in Arkansas," said Butch Calhoun, the state’s secretary of agriculture. "It’s going to be very detrimental to our economy."
The conventional view looks at the domestic credit bubble, the trillions in derivatives and the phantom assets propping the whole mess up and concludes that the only way out is to print the U.S. dollar into oblivion, i.e. create enough dollars that the debts can be paid but in doing so, depreciate the dollar's purchasing power to near-zero. This process of extravagant creation of paper money is also called hyper-inflation. While it is compelling to see hyper-inflation as the only way out in terms of the domestic credit/leverage bubble, the dollar has an entirely different dynamic if we look at foreign exchange (FX) and foreign trade. Many analysts fixate on monetary policy as if it and the relationship of gold to the dollar are the foundation of our problems. These analysts often pinpoint the 1971 decision by President Nixon to abandon the gold standard as the start of our troubles. That decision certainly had a number of consequences, but 80% the dollar's loss of purchasing power occurred before the abandonment of dollar convertibility to gold.
The New York Fed has a few words to say about gold: "A PHENOMENAL ASSET. For centuries, gold had a profound impact on history, as a symbol and a storehouse of wealth accepted universally around the world. Gold functions as a medium of exchange, particularly in areas where currencies are distrusted. Yet gold has not been without controversy. The influential economist, John Maynard Keynes, referred to gold as a “barbarous relic.” Later in the 20th century, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, William McChesney Martin, praised gold as "a beautiful and noble metal. What is barbarous," Martin said, "is man’s enslavement to gold for monetary purposes." Clearly, this precious metal has aroused great passion. It undoubtedly will continue to do so long into the future."
VIX is trading back above 20%, up over 4 vols this morning as its jump is the largest in over 8 months. This instant response to the ultra complacency we discussed last week, as 'they' take their totally dislocated foot off the neck of implied vol, has shifted the short-term volatility expectation from its calmest in almost four months to its most terrified in a month. Perhaps, just perhaps, the talking-heads who espouse this 'fear' index will finally realize its contemporaneous nature and treat it with the disdain it deserves. For now, it appears expectations of market turbulence - now that OPEX is out of the way - are reverting to more realistic levels of un-complacency.