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Italian Bonds Surge To Early November Wides

10Y Italian bonds (BTPs) ended the day at their second-widest closing spread to Bunds ever (at 533bps). Only November 9th saw a wider closing print and of course we saw margin hikes at LCH CC&G. 10Y yields are at 7.16%, their highest since just after Thanksgiving but we do note that 2Y yields have stabilized at around 5.00% yields (having peaked near 8% during thin Thanksgiving trading). It seems apparent that perhaps traders front-running LTRO's impact have compressed the 2s10s term structure but much clearer to us is Mr. Market's obvious desire for more money-printing now as BTPs are pushed to unsustainable levels once again - and the banking-to-sovereign vicious circle transmission of insolvency cranks up.



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Italian Banks Plunge On Capital Raise Concerns

While headlines are reeling with the almost-50% drop (and 8 halts today alone!) in UniCredit's stock price since the start of the year (as it tried and 'succeeded' to raise capital from clearly risk-averse investors), the rest of the Italian banking sector is now 'crashing'. With bank stocks down 12-20% year to date across the board, the clear fear is that the cost of raising real equity capital (not finding some short-term funding crisis solution) remains extremely high and as we tweeted last week, if the EUR7.5bn capital raise caused a 40% sell-off in UniCredit, how is the market going to cope with the EUR115bn more that is needed? Good Luck.



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European Companies Are Now Funding European Banks And The ECB - Is "Investment Grade" Cash Really Just Italian Treasurys?

While hardly news to those who have been following our coverage of the shadow banking system over the past two years, today Reuters has a curious angle on the European "repo" problem: namely, it appears that over the past several months the primary marginal source of cash in the ultra-short term secured market in Europe are not banks, the traditional "lender" of cash (for which banks receive a nominal interest payment in exchange for haircut, hopefully, collateral) but the companies themselves, which have inverted the flow of money and are now lending cash out to banks (with assorted collateral as a pledge - probably such as Italian and Greek bonds), cash which in turn makes its way to none other than the ECB (recall that as of today a record amount of cash was deposited by European "banks" with Mario Draghi). From Reuters: "Blue-chip names like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Peugeot are among firms bailing out Europe's ailing banks in a reversal of the established roles of clients and lenders. One source with knowledge of the so-called repo deals or short-term secured lending, said the two U.S. pharmaceutical groups and French carmaker were the latest to sign up for them." Which intuitively makes sense: as has been well known for years, companies are stuck holding on to record amounts of cash, although what has not been clear is why? Now we know, and it is precisely for this reason: corporate treasurers have known very well that sooner or later the deleveraging wave will leave banks cashless, and corporates themselves will have to become lenders of last resort, especially in a continent in which the central bank is still rather concerned about sparking inflationary concerns.



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Iran Sentences Alleged CIA Spy To Death

Just when we thought we may go through one full day without some escalation out of the greater Iran region, here comes the WSJ to inform us that Iran has decided to shove the MAD ball right back into America's court with news that Iran has sentenced alleged CIA spy, 28 year old Amir Hekmati, to death. "Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, born in Arizona to Iranian parents and raised in Michigan, was accused of Moharebe--or being the enemy of God-- the highest crime in Islamic law that carries the death penalty in countries where Sharia law is practiced. The prosecutor's indictment against Hekmati, read in court, said he was guilty of waging a war against God, spying on the Islamic Republic of Iran for the CIA and working for an enemy government, according to Iranian media reports." Needless to say, "the case, the first recent death penalty for an American in Iran, will likely increase tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The State Department has called for Iran to release Hekmati and give the Swiss embassy--the protectorate of U.S. interest in Iran--access to him." It appears Iran has decided not to proceed with those particular instructions.



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SocGen On Hildebrand Departure Next Steps: "Will SNB Have To Make A Move?"

As many have been suspecting all along, the political game involving the ouster of now former SNB president Philipp Hildebrand has been nothing more than a game of "pin the tail on the scapegoat" for bad monetary policy by the SNB, read the EURCHF 1.20 peg. In other words, it is quite likely that alongside the burgeoning SNB balance sheet, the bank had also accumulated quite a few losses, which the Swiss public will not be too happy with, and a change at the top was required. So what happens next: will the SNB relent and allow the peg to expire as the scramble for a (now much more diluted) CHF resumes ahead of the European D-Day in March, or will the peg be forced to be pushed even higher, at the expense of even greater balance sheet losses? Here is what SocGen thinks will be the next steps.



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ECB Resumes Buying Bonds With Gusto As Italian Yields Remain Well Wide Of 7%

The ECB released its update of SMP purchases in the week ended January 6 (so with settlement through Wednesday): following two weeks of barely any acquisitions (€19MM and €462MM in the two weeks prior), the most recent number was €1.1 billion so gradually we are getting back to normal. The total amount of gross purchases is now €218.4 billion and €213 billion net of maturities. This will also be the amount the ECB will have to sterilize, hopefully without hiccups. Naturally, the more money is parked with the ECB, the less is available for sterilization. And since the total under the SMP will only keep rising, very soon the ECB will likely hit a plateau beyond which it will become increasingly difficult to successfully sterilize the entire weekly rolling amount. And the worst news is that despite the hundreds of billions in "sterilized" (when the banks are kept alive by the central bank, is it really sterilized?) monetizations, Italian yields are once again well over 7%, and the spread of Bunds is now back to a nosebleed inducing 522 bps: how long until LCH wakes up again and hikes margins sending the entire European bond complex a step function lower?



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Long-Term Chart Caveats For Equity Bulls

While relying on technical analysis and chart patterns may lack the academic rigor that fundamental analysts (such as Bill Miller) and economists (such as Joe LaVorgna) assume, it seems that relying on the reality of what is actually going on within businesses is a fool's errand currently. Furthermore, the just-around-the-corner nominal price action impact of a Fed-driven QE3 expansion is on every long-only manager's mind as good is bad and bad is great. As an antidote to this enthusiasm, Dolmen Securities note two longer-dated chart analogs that should provide some food for thought for the more bullish equity investors (which now represents the massive majority of individual investors). The 115 year Dow chart points to sideways price action in a broad range to an 80 year trend at best while the analog to the wave structure from the 2011 peak in the S&P 500 is echoing 2007/8's pre-crash levels rather accurately. While neither chart portends or guarantees an imminent precipice, given earnings downgrades and the box Bernanke appears to be increasingly squeezed in, perhaps they signal the flush that the market needs as an excuse to ramp up the printing press one more time.



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Gold vs Gold Stocks - Goldman Releases "2012: A Gold Odyssey? The Year Ahead..."

As one can glean from the title, in this comprehensive report by Goldman's Paul Hissey, the appropriately named firm deconstructs the divergence between gold stocks and spot gold in recent years, a topic covered previously yet one which still generates much confusion among investor ranks. As Goldman, which continues to be bullish on gold, says, "There is little doubt that gold stocks in general have suffered a derating; initially with the introduction of gold ETFs (free from operational risk), and more recently with the onset of global market insecurity through the second half of 2011. However, gold remains high in the top tier of our preferred commodities for 2012, simply because of the extremely uncertain macroeconomic outlook currently faced in many parts of the world. The official sector also turned net buyer of gold in 2010 for the first time since 1988, and has expanded its net purchases in 2011." And so on. Yet the irony is, as pointed out before, that synthetic paper CDO, continue to be the target of significant capital flows, despite repeated warnings that when push comes to shove, investors would be left with nothing to show for their capital (aside from interim price moves of course), as opposed to holding actual physical (which however has additional implied costs making it prohibitive for most to invest). Naturally, this is also harming gold stocks. Goldman explains. And for all those who have been requesting the global gold cash cost curve, here it is...



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SNB Head Hildebrand Resigns Over Insider Trading Scandal, EURCHF Floor To Go Next?

Just one headline from Bloomberg, which says it all:

  • HILDEBRAND RESIGNS

It is unclear which FX trading company he will join next. As expected, the entire politically charged campaign against Philipp was set to culminate with his departure. And now that the scapegoat is official, it may be time to revisit the EURCHF floor which will likely be the next to go.



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Remember When The Dynamic Duo Was Batman And Robin

Peter Tchir submits: "The market is essentially frozen ahead of yet another Merkozy press conference. I have lost count of how many of these press conferences they have had. I haven’t lost count of how many resulted in anything particularly useful – zero is an easy number to remember."



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Frontrunning: January 9

  • SEC calls for detail on debt exposure (FT)
  • Calls for US taxpayers to bear housing (FT)
  • Beijing Sets Meek Tone on Reform to Banking Sector Amid Uncertainty (WSJ)
  • Merkel, Sarkozy to seek growth, jobs for euro zone (Reuters)
  • UK leaves door open for cash to IMF (FT)
  • Hungary Runs Out of Options in Row With IMF (Bloomberg)
  • Monti Says No More Budget Cutting Needed to Balance Italian Budget by 2013 (Bloomberg)
  • China to maintain 'prudent' monetary policy (China Daily)
  • Regional free trade talks in the pipeline (China Daily)


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Live Webcast Of Merkozy Press Conference

Today's key Euro-centric event, the Merkel-Sarkozy conference is about to begin. Follow it live here.



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Daily US Opening News And Market Re-Cap: January 9

Markets are quiet halfway through the European session as most are awaiting the outcome of the meeting between German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy in Berlin at 1230GMT. The meeting is likely to centre around Greece, as well as the PSI update that, according to the FT may see the holders of Greek bonds accept higher losses as the contentious negotiation over writing down Greece’s debt burden are due to be concluded soon. German Industrial Production figures for November came in roughly in line with expectations, with the German Economic Minister commenting that this measure is likely to remain subdued over the winter months. Data released from Switzerland today shows Retail sales performing much stronger than expected, showing strong consumer demand in Switzerland across November.



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Germany Issues Bills With Negative Yields As Economists Agree Country Is In Recession

Continuing the schizoid overnight theme, we look at Germany which just sold €3.9 billion in 6 month zero-coupon Bubills at a record low yield of -0.0122% (negative) compared to 0.001% previously. The bid to cover was 1.8 compared to 3.8 before. As per the FT: "German short-term debt has traded at negative yields in the secondary market for some weeks with three-month, six-month and one-year debt all below zero. Bills for six-month debt hit a low of minus 0.3 per cent shortly after Christmas...The German auction marks the start of another busy week of debt sales across Europe. France and Slovakia are also selling bills on Monday, with Austria and the Netherlands selling bonds on Tuesday. Germany will auction five-year bonds on Wednesday, while Thursday sees sales of Spanish bonds and Italian bills. Italy finishes the week with a sale of bonds on Friday." Still the fact that the ECB deposit facility, already at a new record as pointed out previously, is not enough for banks to parks cash is grounds for alarm bells going off: the solvency crisis in Europe is not getting any easier, confirmed by the implosion of UniCredit which is down now another 11% this morning and down nearly 50% since the atrocious rights offering announced last week. On this background Germany continues to be a beacon of stability, yet even here the consensus is that recession has arrived. As Bild writes, according to a bank economist survey, Germany's economy is expected to shrink in Q1, with wage increases remaining below 3%. And as deflation grips the nation, potentially unleashing the possibility for direct ECB monetization, look for core yields to continue sliding lower, at least on the LTRO-covered short end.



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