"In a financed financial system, collateral is money"
Last week we noted how up to 90% of the European banking system's equity market capital (or ultimate risk buffer) would be wiped out if they were forced to transform (and price risk appropriately) their mis-marked asset base. The market itself has already started to adjust for this possibility (just look at Italian and Spanish bank stocks recently) but it is the similarity of Europe's bursting bubble of credit extension and current balance sheet recession that brings Japan to mind, and, as Barclays notes, if European banks follow the same trajectory as Japanese banks did from their peak in 1993 (as Europe has been since their peak in 2006), then Europe's banks market cap as a percentage of the total market is likely to drop from the current 11% to around 6% within the next year. Combine that with reality with Deutsche Bank's note that Spanish and Portuguese banks (and less so Italy for now) appear perilously short of ECB-eligible collateral, and is it any wonder things are shifting from bad to worse over there as bank recap plans are critical.
Say what you will about the massaged and manipulated US unemployment rate, record warm winter stimulated monthly NFP print, composition and (lack of) quality of jobs, at least (and we use the term very loosely as this is only thanks to trillions and trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus) the cumulative jobs trend is one of increase. In the US. Europe is a different matter. Because while even at 100,000 jobs added every month, as the chart that some have dubbed the "scariest chart in the world" shows, the US is adding jobs - why: look at this chart and all shall be made clear. Yes, adding debt at a breakneck speed is helping, but all this is doing is delaying the inevitable pain at the end, but in a world where everyone is only focused on the here and now, that is all that matters. Which, however is more than can be said for Europe. Sadly, while the US is slowly converting jobs gained (at a 2% GDP growth rate, in exchange for a public debt rising at double+ that pace), Europe is about to see the cumulative job loss number since the GFC slide to the the lowest since the crisis hit, and then go bidless. At that point it will merely be a question of how long until Europe is swept up in one massive revolution as the people say "no more" to prudent fiscal strategy and demand more, more, more of the debt heroin that is making their neighbors across the Atlantic appear so healthy on the surface, if projected to be 75% obese by 2020.
While Larry Kotlikoff was markedly pessimistic in the past (as we noted here just over a year ago), it seems it was a dress-rehearsal to his latest evisceration of what he now calls the US Government's Ponzi Scheme. In a recent VoxEU article on America's "fiscal child abuse", Kotlikoff and two colleagues demolish the idea of sustainability of government finances and how well off younger generations will be compared with their parents. The game is close to over and for today's children, the American dream will be just that - a dream!
Everyone's favorite Chicago-ite, Rick Santelli, once again presents himself as the truth-teller-in-chief on the propaganda channel. This morning's dismal jobs data but utopian reporting of the improvement in the headline unemployment rate appears to have hit a nerve. Santelli takes on just how bad the employment picture really is, how mainstream media practices 'Ostrich Economics', and finally how nothing is deemed important to most politicians except who is to blame. One of Rick's best as perhaps CNBC has been looking at its ratings and realizes investors want the truth not the spin.
One month later the purge is over: "Norway’s sovereign wealth fund sold all its Irish and Portuguese government bonds after rejecting the Greek debt swap and warned that Europe faces considerable challenges." Wait, what's that? The Eurozone's political strongarming (think Steve Rattner and GM) was unable to force the world's most powerful sovereign wealth fund into agreeing to what was essentially extortion when bank after bank noted how delighted they are to be bent over and take an 80% writedown on their Greek holdings. Stunning. But at least we now know who will be suing Greece shortly in an attempt to recoup par value of their strong law bonds: grab the popcorn - Norway vs Greece will be quite a spectacle. As for their dump of Irish and Portuguese bonds, no surprise there: fool me once (in perpetuity) shame on me, fool me twice, shame on Dan Loeb... who was buying everything Norway was selling. We wonder who ends up right.
UPDATE: We can't help but see the symmetry between the Norwegain Sovereign Weath Fund selling all its Portuguese debt and Dan Loeb's biggest winner in Portuguese bonds as we suspect he was wrappping these purchases in the basis trade.
Portuguese bonds imploded this week with 10Y spreads rising over 70bps, which given its recent performance, got us wondering. For the last few weeks we have commented on the improvements in the Portuguese bond market's yields and spreads - specifically how this seemed much more about the CDS-Bond basis (on cheap carry and renewed confidence in CDS trigger events via ISDA) than simple risk appetite. It was especially surprising given the rest of Europe's sovereign bonds were deteriorating gradually in a somewhat range-bound market. Today we get some insight - courtesy of Dan Loeb's Third Point hedge fund's month-end performance details. The Dapper-Don notes Portuguese Sovereign Bonds as among its top-winners for the month of April - which overall was a poor month for the fund. A quick glance at the chart below tells the story of a Portuguese bond market very much in a world of its own relative to the rest of Europe this last month - and perhaps now we know who was pulling those strings?
Bottom line: financialization and substituting debt for income have run their course. They're not coming back, no matter how hard the Federal Reserve pushes on the string. Both of these interwined trends have traced S-curves and are now in terminal decline: Those hoping the economy is "recovering" on the backs of financial speculation/ legerdemain and ramped up borrowing by the lower 95% will be profoundly disappointed when reality trumps fantasy.
With the end of Operation Twist's USD volatility repression, fading LTRO benefits, and various event risks (from elections to sovereign refinancings and bank downgrades/collateral calls) occurring, the gap between EURUSD implied volatility and European equity implied volatility is becoming excessive. FX volatility is extremely low (complacency high) but relative to equities it seems to offer a low-cost-long-vol bet on the chance of a risk-flare occurring. The last two times this has occurred (in the last year), EURUSD implied vol has rapidly caught up to equity's risk - why not third time the charm?
There is hardly any more long-suffering investor in this market than anyone who has held the stock of that worst of breed American bank: Bank of Countrywide Lynch (BAC), which following the worst M&A transaction in history, namely its purchase of Countrywide, has found out that one does not pay billions for hundreds of billions in contingent liabilities, which will manifest themselves in tens of billions in putback claims against the underreserved bank over time. But all that is now known, grudgingly, after being pointed out here back in 2010, and when all is said and done, BofA will be finished, with the contingent liability pool spun off in a special purpose entity which files for bankruptcy, while the equity remaining at the successor entity will be worth pennies on the dollar. The question is what are the catalysts that get the bank there. Luckily, yesterday the bank itself highlighted what the key driver to put events in motion may be, after it disclosed that should the bank be downgraded, which it will be as Moody's has warned, it would need to post up to $6.2 billion in collateral: an amount which would cripple the bank's liquidity, and send its stock plunging as visions of AIG resurface, and concerns about a toxic downward spiral emerge.
There is little doubt, even amongst the most uninterested and apathetic of people, that America has reached the threshold of a dangerous new era in 2012. Economically, the paper thin facade of recovery created by Federal Reserve fiat easing is beginning to fade, and the debt turmoil we currently see in the European Union is beginning to surface right here at home. Socially, Americans are being subversively divided by the false left/right paradigm and the exploitation of artificially induced race tensions by the mainstream media. Politically, Barack Obama’s presidential approval rating has hit all time lows, and the approval rating for Congress has hit a historic bottom. The path our country has been set upon can only lead to disaster; that much is certain.
Quantitative Easing (QE) is/was seemingly a magic remedy, at least in the short-term. As GLG's Pierre Lagrange notes, central bankers can conjure up money out of thin air and use it to purchase assets - transforming transferring toxic debt, stimulating demand for risk assets, devaluing currencies (this deflating debt), and maintaining low interest rates on govvies. The ECB's more restrictive mandate, however, does not allow them to print money for any other purpose than lending and so direct QE was out of the question and so, as the chart below demonstrates, they ingeniously created the LTRO - delivering an infusion of liquidity (potential profits from carry and hope for capital raises).
Back in February Zero Hedge was first to point out that while jobs may be growing (modestly) and the unemployment rate declining (rapidly, on the back of all those leaving the labor force), it was the quality of jobs that was troubling. Indeed, as today's NFP report once again showed, the average hourly earnings barely budged at $23.38 from $23.37 last month, and in fact declined on an inflation-adjusted basis. Why? Because as we predicted both in February (and in 2010) the US is increasingly becoming a population of part-time workers, as full time jobs disappear for good, and are offshored abroad at best. April confirmed everything we had been warning about: in the month, full time jobs dropped to 114,478,000 from 115,290,000 an epic drop of 812,000 in full time jobs which was the biggest since... March 2009! The offset? Why a surge in part-time jobs of course, which increased by 508,000 in the month of April. So while seasonally adjusted, birth/death recasted jobs may have increased by 115,000, the real quality jobs, imploded, which unfortunately is merely a part of a longer-term secular trend as part of the new part-time normal.
Propaganda unemployment rate: 8.1%; Real unemployment rate: 11.6%. Reason for difference: organic growth of labor force which grows alongside the broader population. Don't be confused by cheap explanations on TV why the labor force should be declining (especially with ZIRP meaning pre-retirement workers have to stay in the labor force ever longer to supplant their meager fixed income): the widely accepted definition of the labor pool, that used by the CBO and all other government forecasting agencies, assumes a 90,000 growth in the labor force every month as it has to keep in line with the growth of the US population! The implication is simple: using a real labor force participation rate long-term average of 65.8%, the real unemployment rate in April was 11.6%, based on the 5.4 million additional workers that should be counted as part of the U-3 which then means that the real number of unemployed is not 12.5 million but 17.9 million, which in turn implies a 11.6% unemployment rate in the US. This also means that the spread between the propaganda, and the real number is now 3.5%: the most it has been since the early 1980s.
Sunday marks the day in Greece, France, parts of Italy and Spain. May 6 will stand out perhaps as the day when the fortunes of Europe were reversed and if not reversed; re-programmed. There has been a lot of talk about this of course and a lot of speculation in the Press and, one would think, that it had all been discounted by the markets but not so fast. The discount will only go as far as the political implications are generally understood and we would submit that the particularities of the European elections are not well understood at all. We think the markets’ reaction is a first blush notion which does not get close to the more pressing questions of what some of the potential changes in power will mean past the revelry of the election night parties. Mr. Hollande, in fact, represents the wave that is sweeping all across Europe which is a return to Nationalism, to tribal pride, to economic self-protection as the European Recession, as driven by the “austerity measures” and fiscal restrictions imposed by Berlin deepen both the economic travails and the reaction to finding your nation under the economic jack boots of Berlin. All of the changes of guard in Europe are going to have a profound effect upon the marketplace in my view. There will be a widening of credit/risk spreads, a decline in the equity markets, a decline of the Euro against the Dollar as Fear climbs back in the driver’s seat and as uncertainty is the prevalent theme of each day.