Yesterday, the fine folks of Tradition Analytics were kind enough to explain (once again) just how it is that the Fed has boxed itself into a corner, where in order to maintain the already outlierish growth rate of monetary supply, the Fed will have no choice but to print (same with the ECB), or else risk a massive economic collapse (thank you Austrian theory). Today, the same group provides an update on what everyone knows has been the status quo's only way of dealing with the deleveraging tsunami since March 18, 2009: currency warfare. In the note below, they provide a recap of the recent history of FX warfare, as well as an update of where we stand currently. Keep in mind, currency warfare only works to a point. Then it escalates into other, more violent forms, first trade wars, then real ones.
First it was Zero Hedge. Then Ron Paul joined in. Now it is the turn of a former Dallas Fed Vice President, Gerald ODriscoll, to outright accuse the Fed of bailing out Europe courtesy of "incomprehensible" currency swaps, and implicitly accusing Bernanke of lying that he would not bail out Europe even as he has done precisely that. And not only that: by cutting the USD swap spread from OIS+100 to OIS+50, the Fed has made sure it gets paid less than ever for extended Europe the courtesy of bailing it out all over again. Incidentally, O'Driscoll says, "America's central bank, the Federal Reserve, is engaged in a bailout of European banks. Surprisingly, its operation is largely unnoticed here." One thing we can say proudly - it has been noticed loud and clear here...
While the surge in the ECB's balance sheet has been discussed to death on these pages, with a particular emphasis on what we believe the key correlation driver-cum-pissing contest of 2012 will be - namely the relative size of the ECB vs Fed balance sheets - it is often best to see things for oneself. Such as the fact that the balance sheet of the European Central Bank, which has been accused of not printing, has grown at the fastest non-pre apocalypse pace in history for a modern central bank (the only exception is the Fed, whose balance sheet grew from under $1 trillion to over $2.2 trillion in the aftermath of the money market collapse), increasing by EUR800 billion, or over $1 trillion, in six months, to E2.73 trillion (obviously an all time record). Annualized this is an increase of over $2 trillion or more than the Fed did in all of QE1. So, just what happens next year when the banks box Draghi in a corner and the Goldmanite decides to actually... print. Perhaps this is a question, as before, left best to our German readers, who unlike their detached from reality peers in the US, know that hyperinflation is and can be all too real.
Just out from Reuters:
- U.S. FIFTH FLEET SAYS ANY DISRUPTION OF NAVIGATION IN HORMUZ STRAIT "WILL NOT BE TOLERATED"
Compare this statement with what an Iranian navy chief said earlier...
While it is unclear what just spooked the EURUSD, sending it lower by 70 pips in minutes, perhaps a better question is why the EURUSD is not thousands of pips lower to begin with. As a reminder every single large bank is pushing for a lower EURUSD on hopes that a EUR collapse will kill the market and send the ECB scurrying into printing money. The problem there is that the ECB just announced its balance sheet expanded to EUR 2.73 trillion, an expected increase of over EUR 200 billion in one week (since the LTRO), and a whopping EUR 800 billion in 6 months (that's $1.1 trillion... in six months)! As such, good luck selling to the Germans on the ECB board that EUR 1.6 trillion annualized is insufficient. Lastly, and as a reminder, here is the only correlation that matters in 2012.
Think "all is fine" in Europe after today's largely irrelevant Italian bill auction (the auction was for 6 month debt - even Greece can raise that kind of money)? Think again. Here is the Fermentation Committee Chairman explaining why Europe is so hard pressed to create a fake sense of calm, allowing those who know the real story to take advantage of the situation while they still can, and sharing the behind the scenes truth you won't get anywhere else. Certainly not SWIFT.
Throughout this entire crisis (going back to 2007), the governments and central banks have made efforts to “fix” certain things. If LIBOR gets too high, then they take action, that at least temporarily improves LIBOR. Those who look at the “improved” data and think the problem has been fixed have been proven wrong, as the market exposes other holes and eventually even the government and central bank money can’t keep the prices artificial for too long without forever increasing the amount of public money at risk. There may be no better example of that phenomena than the Euro Basis Swaps. To some degree, this rate measures the difficulty that European companies (banks) have when trying to get dollars. The First “globally coordinated” action in September brought the rate back from-110 to -80. That faded until it hit an almost scary -160. The Second “globally coordinated” swap line action got us all the way back to -110 (about the same level that had sparked the first action). We retraced some of those gains, saw fresh gains on the back of LTRO, but again have stabilized at rates that are worse than what the policy makers have targeted. Where would these rates be without intervention? Should we be happy about the improvement, or should we be concerned that in spite of all the intervention, this is the best they could do?
As we said yesterday when Sears decided to very unprudently (if very conveniently) post an update of its revolver in its horrendous preannouncement, the company is about to experience some MF Global style "death shorting" having invited every short from miles around to sniff at just how (un)stable its liquidity is. Judging by the action in the pre-market session, where the stock is another 4% lower, we may have been correct. And just to make the lives of key shareholders Eddie Lampert and Bruce Berkowitz even worse, here is Goldman cutting its price target from $43 to $30, while still maintaining a Sell. Alas, this name is going far lower.
Our friends at Themis Trading, who continue the good, if seemingly futile fight, for a fair and untiered market, refresh on their late 2010 market structure forecast, only to find that with a 1 out of 10 "success" track record, they have the same predictive hit rate as Byron Wien and Joe LaVorgna. Which, incidentally, is not a good thing: it simply means the US stock market is now more broken and corrupt than ever, a development that is not lost on US investors, who later today we will find have redeemed a near record amount of cash from US equity mutual funds in 2011, and have pulled cash for 34 out of 35 weeks in a row, leaving mutual funds with virtually zero cash buffer, massive leverage and dreading that day when the Santa rally coupled with low volume levitation is no longer sufficient to mask the massive capital hole in the heart of the S&P 500.
With many expecting 2012 to be a replica of 2011, at least for US stocks which the non-permabull consensus sees closing the year largely unchanged for the second year in a row, one open question is whether this will also be applicable to Europe. As a reminder, the EURUSD opened this year near the 52 week lows, only to rise by several thousand pips as concerns about European contagion were brushed away on hopes Europe's politicians had it "under control." They didn't, and the EURUSD returned to its year's lows recently. But is the same pattern in store for early 2012, where as we already noted, the bulk of gross debt issuance is due to take place, especially in January? Below are UBS' 5 other key reasons why the European resurgence (however brief) that was experienced early this year will not be recreated in the new year that is now just around the corner.
- BRIC Decade Ends With Record Fund Outflows as Growth Slows (Bloomberg)
- U.S. says China not currency manipulator; chides Japan (Reuters)
- Japan Deflation Returns as Production Slides (Bloomberg)
- Record use made of ECB deposit facility (FT)
- Irish May Pay Greek Price for T-Bill Market Return: Euro Credit (Bloomberg)
- Italian 10-Year Bonds Rise, Stocks Advance After Debt Auction (Bloomberg)
- Obama to nominate economist, banker, as Fed governors (Reuters)
- Japan relaxes weapons export ban (FT)
Despite European banks hoarding cash at the ECB at record levels as observed previously, Italy succeeded in selling ultra short maturity debt earlier today at interest rates that confirm Europe has managed to stabilize near-term expectations. Specifically, as Reuters reports, Italy sold 1.7 billion euros of 24-month zero-coupon bonds on Wednesday at an average 4.85 percent rate, sharply down from an auction yield of 7.8 percent a month ago. The Bid to Cover was 2.24 compared to 1.59 previously. Nonetheless, this amount was less than the maximum 2.5 billion euros targeted at the auction. Italy also sold 9 billion euros of six-month bills at an average yield of 3.25 percent on Wednesday, half of what it paid a month ago to sell six-month paper at a bid to cover of 1.69 compared to 1.47 previously. Lastly, the fact that Italy can place debt in under 2 years when the LTRO itself has a 3 year maturity means that the real issuance test will come tomorrow when Italy is on deck to sell 3 Year bonds. As for 10 year BTP, which were trading at over 7% as recently as overnight, that is a different story completely.
If there is anything that the European banks' negative response to the LTRO's invitation to use "free money" and relever even as Europe faces a perfect storm of deleveraging in 2012 (a topic beaten to death by us here previously) is that the problem at the root of the European financial crisis is not a liquidity one - it is, and has always been one of solvency, or, said otherwise, a problem when bank assets do not generate enough cash flow to satisfy cash outflows from bank liabilities, period, the end. Everything else is irrelevant. And while the market is fascinated in complete noise such as at what price will Italian bonds price in minutes, what the real focus should be on is the state of the primary driver that led Europe into (and eventually will take it out of) the credit bubble- housing. Today, Bloomberg provides a quick update of the Spanish housing situation which can be summarized as follows: horrible and getting much worse, because as October data shows, lending has imploded, down nearly by half just from a year earlier, while the average price is down over 7%.
While sovereign spreads are leaking modestly tighter this morning as European credit markets emerge from the holiday hibernation, the ECB Deposit Facility surged 10% further to a LTRO-busting EUR452bn. While we assume there is some year-end 'management' involved here (and some will argue that putting the LTRO-carry-trade to work takes time), the sheer velocity and scale of the ramp in deposits suggests this is not a game-theoretically optimal use of this new-found cash (neg-carry-trade) but instead a clear message that banks will delever and remain risk averse no matter what the central banks 'suggest' is appropriate. Didn't we learn this lesson already in Japan (for two decades of debt minimization as opposed to profit maximization) and the US (Fed reserves skyrocketed as dealer bond inventories drop precipitously?). Also, those saying that banks are just waiting for the new year to start putting LTRO cash to use, there is no reason to wait - Italian BTPs are already at 7% - all banks are doing by delaying is giving up on days of free carry trade, thus this argument is pure rubbish. We are also seeing EUR-USD basis swaps starting to decompress (worsen) once again. In summary: since LTRO day, EUR187 billion of the 210 billion free money has been redeposited at the ECB.
Given the low volume day, it is hardly surprising that markets had some unusual actions today but the consistency with which financials lagged on the day, combined with the selling pressure we saw in HYG (which has increasingly seemed to dominate credit markets recently) offers little to 'buy into' from today. ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) oscillated up and back to VWAP all day long in a very narrow range as risk assets rose modestly (helped by the seemingly Iran-driven surge in Oil more than any other). FX carry did little, TSYs rallied (and 2s10s30s dropped) modestly, as Gold dropped on the day but credit (based on the IG and HY credit indices) outperformed equities by a little (more end of day liquidity than risk appetite) as the anchor of BofA (-2.5%) and MS (-2.9%) dragged financial stocks (-0.6%) to close at their lows of the day and seemed the most important factor of the day (even as corp bonds - as thinly traded as they were) saw net buying. Combine this move with the metals sell-off that stabilized only after Europe closed (collateral/liquidation needs?) and there is some food for thought even on a quiet day.