But wait, we thought Greece and the ECB had an upper hand? Wouldn't they exercise said upper hand by now, considering its now 9pm in Greece on a Sunday, the day before the critical European finmin meeting by which point the Greek deal was supposed to be in place?
It took a few hours for Germany to tell not only Italy, but the ECB, to shove it. Earlier we reported that the Super Broke Mario Bros came begging on Germany's footstep, kindly requesting their daily allotment be doubled. Germany has now kindly responded. From Reuters: "German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Sunday rejected pressure to beef up the euro zone's permanent rescue facility, saying Berlin would stick to the agreement made in December for a lending capacity of 500 billion euros ($646 billion). "We are sticking to what was agreed in December," Schaeuble told public broadcaster ARD. "In March we will check whether that is sufficient." The draft treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will be discussed by euro zone finance ministers on Monday and is likely to be approved by EU leaders at their summit on Jan. 30, euro zone officials have said." As a reminder, minutes ago when we reported the first leg of this now closed transaction we said: "Poor Mario apparently fails to grasp that for Germany a plunging Euro, and thus a surging export market to offshore trading partners, is the only thing that matters now that its endogenous mercantilist import, pardon, trading partners of the past decade, the PIIGS, have no more debt capacity to buy German exports. Although even a technocrat probably understands that one does not get a weak currency by bailing out the weakest links over and over. Expect the European crisis to be with us for a long time. After all, that's precisely what Germany wants." And what Germany wants, Germany gets.
With less than three months left until the Greek D-Day, and just over one month until the next 3-year LTRO, which will be the ECB's final chance to firewall off its banks with sufficient liquidity and brace for the worst if Greece fails to reach a consensual debt reducing exchange offer (which our colleagues in the German press don't think will be nearly enough), we finally get a glimpse of how the super broke Mario brothers really feel. According to a report in the German Spiegel, the ink is not even yet dry on the latest completely toothless EU Fiscal Draft (which will allow the €500 billion European Stability Mechanism to be enacted) and already we get the world's most insolvent hedge fund, pardon central bank, and Europe's biggest debtor demanding for more. "Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi both support enlarging the capacity of Europe’s permanent financial rescue mechanism, Der Spiegel reported, without saying where it got the information. The news magazine said Monti is pushing for the European Stability Mechanism’s capacity to be doubled to 1 trillion euros ($1.29 trillion), and had made the suggestion to the German government. Der Spiegel added that Draghi supports the view that unused funds from Europe’s temporary rescue fund should be added to the ESM’s firepower when it comes into force." Well good thing the ECB is not printing money or else one would get the impression that the system is getting flooded with trillions of excess cash. It also also great that the next LTRO will not be up to €10 trillion, as first reported here, and as was finally noted by the German press.
Yesterday, Reuters' blogger Felix Salmon in a well-written if somewhat verbose essay, makes the argument that "Greece has the upper hand" in its ongoing negotiations with the ad hoc and official group of creditors. It would be a great analysis if it wasn't for one minor detail. It is wrong. And while that in itself is hardly newsworthy, the fact that, as usual, its conclusion is built upon others' primary research and analysis, including that of the Wall Street Journal, merely reinforces the fact that there is little understanding in the mainstream media of what is actually going on behind the scenes in the Greek negotiations, and thus a comprehension of how prepack (for now) bankruptcy processes operate. Furthermore, since the Greek "case study" will have dramatic implications for not only other instances of sovereign default, many of which are already lining up especially in Europe, but for the sovereign bond market in general, this may be a good time to explain why not only does Greece not have the upper hand, but why an adverse outcome from the 11th hour discussions between the IIF, the ad hoc creditors, Greece, and the Troika, would have monumental consequences for the entire bond market in general.
Three primaries, three different winners. There is little that can be said here except to add what we said before: the US gets just what it deserves. Follow the results live on the CNN webcast and the interactive Google chart.
Something big must be happening behind the scenes because the level of broad popular distraction just hit ludicrous speed. The latest news, from AP: "Offering no explanation, the Iowa Republican Party has declared Rick Santorum as winner of the Iowa caucuses, days after saying incomplete vote results precluded it from doing just that. GOP State Chairman Matt Strawn and the party’s State Central Committee issued a statement late Friday naming the former Pennsylvania senator as the winner, “in order to clarify conflicting reports and to affirm the results” that were released Wednesday." Naturally, jokes about Paul votes being "hanging chad-ed" by Diebold machines are imminent: "Because eight precincts never turned in certified results, Strawn said in the statement Thursday that the party could not declare a winner. He congratulated both Santorum and Romney. Sixteen days earlier, Strawn had announced that Romney had won the caucuses by eight votes." But far more notable, from the PPP website: "Newt Gingrich heads into South Carolina election day as the clear front runner in the state: he's now polling at 37% to 28% for Mitt Romney, 16% for Rick Santorum, and 14% for Ron Paul. Gingrich's lead has actually increased in the wake of his ex-wife's controversial interview with ABC. Although one night poll results should always be interpreted with caution, he led the final night of the field period by a 40-26 margin. One thing that continues to work to his advantage are the debates. 60% of primary voters report having watched the one last night, and Gingrich has a 46-23 lead with those folks. The other reason his ex-wife's interview isn't causing him much trouble is that there's a lot of skepticism about it. Only 31% of voters say they think her accusations are true while 35% think they are false and 34% are unsure. 51% of voters say that they have 'no concerns' about what came out in the interview." In other words: three primaries are about to lead to three different winners. What can we say: America always gets the president it deserves.
In America, the implicit belief system promoted by marketing is that you can eat anything you want in whatever quantity you want, and if anything goes wrong with your body or mind, there is a pill or procedure to fix it. In other words, your diet and fitness level is given lip service, but what really counts is access to all the medications that are constantly touted and pushed by the Marketing/Mainstream Media complex. It would be comical if it wasn't so tragic: if you've seen one advert pushing a med, you've seen them all: the description of the disorder, the fear and pain it inflicts, the solution in a pill, and then a voice-over, spoken at a manic pace to fit all the possible side-effects in the waning moments of a 60-second spot: suicidal thoughts, symptoms of heart attack, heart attack, itchy skin, dizziness, bizarre dreams, and on and on. Good golly, all these side-effects from one med? What happens when they're combined with 7 or 8 or 11 other meds with their own swarms of nasty side effects? The core of sickcare is this: creating and treating illness is highly profitable. For creating illness, we have the packaged food, Big Food and fast food industries. Does anyone seriously believe that human beings can function healthily for decades on a diet of sugar water, fried potatoes, white-bread buns and fat-larded hamburgers?
We were not at all surprised to learn this morning that not only has an agreement not been met ahead of Monday's critical Eurozone FinMin meeting (the first of many for 2012) in Brussels, but talks have "stalled". Dow Jones reports: "Talks between Greece and its private sector creditors over a debt writedown plan appeared to stall Saturday as the banks' top negotiator left Athens amid signs of fresh disagreements over how much Greece would pay its bondholders in the future. Officials close to the talks said they may not conclude before a meeting Monday of euro-zone finance ministers where a second bailout which will keep Greece from defaulting is supposed to be discussed. Without a deal on the write-down of the debt held in private hands, the loan can't be released. Institute of International Finance chief Charles Dallara, who has been negotiating with Greek officials on the bond swap plan for the last two days, left Athens Saturday as hurdles remained over the interest rate the new bonds would pay private sector creditors. "Right now there are no talks. There will be consultations with the EU and the IMF to determine where we stand and then we'll see. It (negotiations) has again become complicated with the new demands over the coupon," said a person with direct knowledge of the talks." Which is why any statements that Greece, or the ECB, has all the leverage are total rubbish - if Greece wanted to get the deal done over Hedge Funds' dead bodies, it would have. It hasn't. And yes, a forced cram down of UK-indentured Greek bonds is still a possibiliy, but we will shortly make all too clear that should Greece proceed with this last ditch scorched earth approach, it would mean a complete overhaul of the entire PIIGS bond market, and why a sell off in €800 billion of it would be imminent.
Two weeks ago we wrote a post that should have made it all too clear that while the US and Europe continue to pretend that all is well, and they are, somehow, solvent, Asia has been smelling the coffee. To wit: "For anyone wondering how the abandonment of the dollar reserve status would look like we have a Hollow Men reference: not with a bang, but a whimper... Or in this case a whole series of bilateral agreements that quietly seeks to remove the US currency as an intermediate. Such as these: "World's Second (China) And Third Largest (Japan) Economies To Bypass Dollar, Engage In Direct Currency Trade", "China, Russia Drop Dollar In Bilateral Trade", "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System", "India and Japan sign new $15bn currency swap agreement", and now this: "Iran, Russia Replace Dollar With Rial, Ruble in Trade, Fars Says."" Today we add the latest country to join the Asian dollar exclusion zone: "India and Iran have agreed to settle some of their $12 billion annual oil trade in rupees, a government source said on Friday, resorting to the restricted currency after more than a year of payment problems in the face of fresh, tougher U.S. sanctions." To summarize: Japan, China, Russia, India and Iran: the countries which together account for the bulk of the world's productivity and combined are among the biggest explorers and producers of energy. And now they all have partial bilateral arrangements, and all of which will very likely expand their bilateral arrangements to multilateral, courtesy of Obama's foreign relations stance which by pushing the countries into a corner has forced them to find alternative, USD-exclusive, arrangements. But yes, aside from all of the above, the dollar still is the reserve currency... if only in which to make calculations of how many imaginary money one pays in exchange for imaginary 'developed world' collateral.
In this very informative interview between The Browser and Peter Boettke, the professor of economics discusses the contributions made by the Austrian School, and explains the various nuances of the economic school by way of recent books by "Austrians." He also explains what we can learn from Mises and Hayek, and argues that economics is the sexiest subject.
A few days ago, Eric Sprott decided to take advantage of the record premium over NAV of his physical silver fund PSLV (or for some other arbitrary reason) and to issue a $300MM follow-on offering, whose proceeds would be used to buy up silver to add to PSLV's existing physical holdings. Naturally, as soon as the news broke, the premium dropped to about 10%, making PSLV holders unhappy. This is not the first time that Sprott has done this: as a reminder after his April 2011 follow on offering in PHYS, we were fully expecting a comparable physical sequestration to occur via PSLV, to wit: "It appears to have already had an impact on silver, which jumped by $20 cents to another 31 year high on the news, as the market now likely expects a follow on offering in PSLV as well imminently." About 10 months later, it finally happened. As was to be expected, any short-term gains focused investors obviously became angry that by collapsing the premium, which we speculated was shortage driven, they have suffered a hit to their P&L (expressed in dollars of course, which as a reminder to the holders, should be largely irrelevant, especially to those who believe a PM-based barter system is imminent). Yet they forget the flip side to the equation: the money taken out of the premium, would be promptly used to take silver out of (hyper hypothecated) circulation, in other words, in the closed system, the drop in Premium would translate in a rising price in the underlying. Which according to UBS is precisely what has happened, and why silver moved as much as it did. Quoting from FMX Connect: "Today’s incredible move was the culmination of a comment made by UBS analyst Edel Tully. He stated that hedge fund manager Eric Sprott may be in the market buying spot futures in a private letter to his clients." And even as the premium dropped, the price of spot silver increased by over 5%, on the speculation of silver being taken out of the market and delivered to Sprott.
Equity and credit markets traded in a narrow range with late day ebullience (as VIX collapsed but we note implied correlation did not) pushing them to marginally new multi-month highs and tights respectively. The markets tracked one another very closely as did HYG (the high-yield bond ETF) but into the close HYG sold off quite notably (relative to the day's action). Financials staged a late-day advance (responsible largely for the move in the index along with Energy names) as average trade size picked up right at the end suggesting covering at the end. The relatively calm in equity, credit, and FX markets (especially post Europe's close) was not at all evident in the commodity markets where Silver jumped dramatically (up over 8% on the week) while Gold gently pushed higher (+1.7% matching USD's weakness on the week). Oil was the week's biggest loser (down 0.5%) as Copper clung to 3% gains on the week. Treasuries ended the week at their high yields (30Y +19bps) with the curve considerably steeper (and 2s10s30s up nicely) which supported risk assets broadly as opposed to oil's weakness (and stability in FX carry pairs) which did not.
While it is early to determine if the ongoing breakout is finally in anticipation of upcoming episodes of direct and indirect monetization by the Fed, ECB, or any of the many other pathological currency diluters in circulation, it is obvious that precious metals have found a new bid in recent days. Is this then, the beginning of the next surge in gold and silver to record highs? It remains to be seen, but one entity, the Duet Commodities Fund which was one of last year's best performers, has already made up its mind. 'Our central forecast in gold remains constructive as our long term view targets $2,500 in 2012. Our core view is that gold will head higher to the $2,500 range driven by consequential USD weakness once the EU crisis dissipates and the US steps into the limelight. A weaker USD is not undesirable in the world order as everyone (especially China) understands that the US consumer is the driver for global consumer confidence and consequential consumption led demand." Wow - someone in this market can actually think one step ahead of the inevitable ECB LTRO/monetization, and realize that the Fed will in turn have to escalate to that escalation. Gold, er golf clap.
While much will be made of the spurt in volume today - to its highest of the year - we present without too much comment the comparison to last January's OPEX volume. Today's volume is an incredible 27% below the January 2011 Option expiration volume...