In a world desperate for any positive news, today's borderline idiotic rumor du jour, of course after Monti's gambit blew up in his face literally in minutes, comes from Germany where interested parties leaked that Germany is considering changing the seniority status of the ESM, obviously to ameloirate subordination concerns of Spanish and soon, Italian, bonds. To wit, the headline machine has focused on this part of the recent Reuters report: "A leading ally of German Chancellor Merkel told a closed-door meeting of her conservatives on Tuesday that euro zone governments were discussing removing the preferred creditor status of the bloc's new permanent rescue fund, sources told Reuters." What is very conveniently missed out is what actually matters: "Neither Merkel nor Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble spoke out in favour of such a move at the meeting, the sources said, leaving it unclear whether the idea had the firm backing of the German government." And whatever Merkel (and Schauble, of course), wants Merkel (and Schauble, of course) gets. Because both of them realize that investing €500 billion of what will in the end be purely German cash as more and more countries move from ESM guarantors to ESM recipients, in addition to the hundreds of billions in sunk TARGET2 costs, amount to a number increasingly roughly the same size as German GDP, as we explained last July. Also, as we explained last July, lots of angry Germans are getting angrier by the day.
Between macro-economic 'religious' experiences, regulatory uncertainty, and legislative gyrations, the world appears to be a very different place now than before 2008. It seems that from the 'Lehman' moment (some might call it an 'epiphany' moment), and later the US downgrade, markets realized that the impossible was possible and while every long-only manager will try to convince you that nothing has changed, these four charts (via Barclays) will go a long way to proving that everything has changed. Whether it is policy uncertainty, the frequency of 'fat-tailed' events, market illiquidity, or the domination of correlated 'macro' risk over idiosyncratic diversification; trading (or investing) has profoundly changed since 2008.
Update: According to subsequent press reports, Monty has denied he threatened to resign. i.e., Monti just blinked. So now it is up to Merkel who will either have a very short life, or Monti will have to come up with a different professional suicide gambit.
Just when we thought the European drama couldn't get any more poignant following Merkel's statement earlier which boils down to "No eurobonds or death", here comes Italy's unelected PM and former Goldmanite, Mario Monti, threatening that the beggar will pull the trigger on his own political career if he is not allowed to be a chooser. From Il Giornale: "If the Chancellor does not give up I will tell you that I resign because if things do not change are not able to bring Italy out of the abyss", he suggested relying on the bogeyman of the crisis that would bring Italy under attack of speculators. On the other hand, Merkel knows all too well that the fall of Rome would mean the collapse of the definitive ' euros by prospects that would put the shivers even in Berlin." So one hand for Merkel Eurobonds are a matter of life or death, while an elected technocrat with no leverage at all, threatens to quit. Our money is on the German.
There are roughly 19 million vacant dwellings in the U.S., of which around 4 million are second homes and a million or two are on the market. Let's stipulate that several million more are in areas with very low demand (i.e. few want to live there year-round). Let's also stipulate that several million more are in the "shadow inventory" of homes that are neither on the market nor even officially in the foreclosure pipeline, i.e. zombie homes. Even if you account for 9 million of these homes, that still leaves 10 million vacant dwellings in the U.S. which could be occupied. That means 1 in 12 of all dwellings are vacant. Even if you discount this by half, that still leaves 5 million vacant dwellings that could be occupied. Given that the total rental market is 40 million households, that constitutes a very large inventory of supply that remains untapped. Lastly, it is important to note that the ratio of residents to dwellings is rather low in the U.S., with millions of single-person households and large homes occupied by one or two people. The potential pool of existing homeowners who could enter the "informal" rental market by offering bedrooms, basements and even enclosed garages for rent is extremely large, and that is a difficult-to-count "shadow" inventory of potential rentals.
For. The. Win.
GERMANY'S MERKEL SAYS EUROPE WILL NOT HAVE SHARED LIABILITY FOR DEBT AS LONG AS SHE LIVES
Socialism better have a Plan B.
If there is one bank report that Obama wishes is absolutely wrong it is the following note from Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid (definitely not part of the bank's laughable Trinity Of Perma Bull consisting of Bianco, Chadha and, of course, La Vorgna) who, looking at the timing of business cycles, makes the following ominous, for both the economy and Obama's reelection chances, prediction: "If this US cycle is of completely average length as seen using the last 158 years of history (33 cycles) then the next recession should start by the end of August." The only saving grace for the president: since the advent of centrally-planned markets, nothing is as it used to be, and the business cycle no longer exists ("JP Morgan Finds Obama, And US Central Planning, Has Broken The Economic "Virtuous Cycle""). Still, maybe, this is the one last trace of free capital markets that the Fed has (so far) been unable to totally destroy. We are confident it will get right on it.
Spanish 10Y spreads are now over 50bps wider on the week and the yield pushing back over 6.8% as its spread spikes 10-15bps on rumors of a Moody's downgrade to 'Junk'. The IBEX dropped 0.5% rapidly, now down almost 5% on the week. Italy is catching the cold and is blowing wider in credit and lower in stocks as financials are leading the plunge in both nations.
In a little under two minutes, Stratfor provides a succinct primer on 'France'. Its natural (ocean, river, and mountain) geographic 'barrier' borders, its major agricultural industry, and significant social cohesion. But, there is one weakness - the North European Plain - which remains France's main challenge - safe-guarding its north-European border, on the path of a historic invasion route. The most critical existential threat to France has come from its Eastern neighbor Germany and after three significant wars from 1871 to 1945, France attempted to 'contain' Germany largely through economic and political union. The most recent economic and political crisis (and the growing schism between Hollande and Merkel) suggest France's containment-strategy may be in question.
While Europe is dominating headlines this week, UBS' Art Cashin suggests "mark your calendar and cross your fingers" as he notes the disproportionate prevalence of events that occur in September. Focusing on The Economist's Greg Ip's recent post on a possible seasonal pattern in banking crises, via this recent Reinhart & Rogoff extension paper by Laeven and Valencia, he notes: "The frequency with which the world goes to hell in September seems hardly random." Unfortunately the authors provide no explanation for this beyond observing, "An interesting pattern emerges: banking crises tend to start in the second half of the year, with large September and December effects." Ip and Cashin offer some thoughts on why this is so historically, and more importantly why this time is no different, as the avuncular Art concludes with: "try to enjoy your summer".
...But at least housing has bottomed (it so difficult to even write that with a straight face). Our two economic indicators today continued the tradition of the last 2 months and both missed, with the Richmond Fed sliding to -3 on expectations of a +2 print, and down from +4: the lowest number since October 2011. And the other data point hinting to the Fed that it is needs to do something now, was the June Consumer Confidence number, which was lower 4 months in a row (for the first time since May 2008), and which declined from 64.4 to 62.0, missing expectations of 63.0, and the lowest since January, undoing all transitory, S&P500 driven gains of the year.
We explained it all in painful detail in January. We refreshed two weeks ago ("The Spanish 'Legal-Arbitrage' Bond Trade Is On") and then one week prior ("Spanish "Litigation Arb" Trade Is The New Killing It"). Now, finally, Citi's Matt King has jumped on board.
The difference between senior credit risk and subordinated credit risk for Italian and Spanish banks has risen dramatically in the last few days (since we posted the macro 'bail-in' trade) with Spanish banks the hardest hit but all wider. Senior credit for these banks remains in its relatively wide range of the last few weeks but the subordinated credit risk has broken out to the upside (an average over 950bps across the eight names in our index) as the market prices in the endgame of any dilutive 'burden-sharing' endgame as a cram-up of sub (and perhaps even some senior) bank credit. Perhaps spooked a little by comments from de Guindos on 'preferreds' today, it is the Spanish Cajas that are worst with Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo +185bps at 1455bps (equivalent) today. In the meantime, the LTRO Stigma (the spread between LTRO-encumbered and non-LTRO banks) has pushed back over 180bps to record wides as the LTRO-driven symbiotic contagion unintended consequence of banking and sovereign stress reinforce one another more and more.
Remember April? That's when the US stock market peaked. It also occurred right after March when the peak effect of the record warm winter weather hit, resulting in peak forward pulled demand. Sure enough, today's Case Shiller index confirmed that: in April the Top 20 SA Composite Index rose by a respectable 0.67%: not a bad sign considering until February it had declined for 20 consecutive months. The issue, however, is that the April increase was already lower than the March revision, which in turn had seen a 0.73% increase which was the highest since August 2009. Which means precisely what the chart below indicates: a continuous lower trendline in home prices, with delayed monthly noise based on what the S&P does. And with the S&P plunging in May, expect a comparable response in housing price when the data is finally released. At the end of July. By then, however, we may have bigger issues. Finally, those hoping that the Fed is looking at this indicator as permissive of more negative feedback easing, will be disappointed: the Fed will need to see at least one full period of a sustained decline. So far not so good.
Now even the beggars (Gollum, Barosso, Juncker, Monti and lately Draghi) appear to have given up hope they can be choosers. While on Monday the press was abuzz with speculation that Van Rompuy was about to unveil yet another epic (and completely impractical) plan of future Eurozone integration, the FT now reports that just 24 hours later, "Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, on Tuesday published a significantly scaled-back version of the highly-anticipated plan for the future of the eurozone to be debated at a summit meeting this week. The seven-page plan, which calls for progress towards commonly issued eurozone bonds and the eventual establishment of central EU treasury, is less ambitious and less detailed than earlier drafts, including a 10-page version circulated as recently as Monday." At this rate, the final draft will consist of three pages... of blank checks. And the glitch in the matrix will be complete if the first entity this plan is presented to will be US congress. Which would be oddly fitting: after all someone has to pay for other people's socialism.
There are those that wait and hope and pray that there will be Divine Intervention. They cling to the belief that Germany, in the end, will back down and retreat and agree to bail everyone out. Germany’s GDP is only $3.2 trillion and this expectation, believed in by more than a few, is not only ridiculous in my opinion but a mathematical impossibility. If you consider the current EFSF program and that $300 billion has already been used for Greece, Ireland and Portugal and that this new assistance program for Spain will take it up to $425 billion you begin to get some sense of the enormity of the problem. The U.S. equivalent then for the total EFSF would be $4.318 trillion or 30.4% of America’s total GDP which would swamp our nation. This is why when I listen to Frau Merkel say “Nein;” I believe her! It is the twentieth Summit. I predict it will be the twentieth time that almost nothing is accomplished. The beggars want to be the choosers and Germany and the richer nations will hardly allow for that.