Every year in February, the Treasury department releases its adjustment to foreign purchases of Treasury bond holdings as of the previous June (with revised and overriding estimates for all the intervening months in the interim, as well as previous monthly forecasts). It did that earlier today. And while many may have been expecting the revision to show that contrary to Zero Hedge claims China has in fact been building up its Treasury stake (following the now traditional transfer of UK purchases to China), the reality is that not only has China indeed been dumping US exposure (first reported by us previously when we observed the plunge in holdings in the Fed's custodial account), selling over $100 billion in Treasurys in December alone (bringing its total to $1152 billion, and down 12% from its June total of $1307 billion) but that probably far more curiously, the UK is no longer a shadow buyer of Chinese bond accumulation and instead has become a secret accumulator of Russian holdings.
Dow Jones 13,000 Crossed 52 Times in Past 3 Days, Wreaks Havoc With Retirement Plans Of Trader CommunitySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/29/2012 - 18:27
Since the amount of coverage the Dow 13,000 has received on CNBC indicates that it is clearly the indicator for half of the actively trading population in America to hang its hat and retire, we can only commiserate with the retirement planners of America who have had to do only to undo retirement plans for all of 7 people give or take (as we said, half the entire active trading population of America, although we should clarify of the carbon-based variety) a whopping 52 times. Yup: that is the amount of times the 13,000 barrier has been crossed, and uncrossed in the past 3 days alone. We fail to recall any other Dow milestone that has been proven such a technical problem for the market to succumb. And that it closed below it after the second LTRO, and after today's Bernanke testimony is certainly not a good sign. On the other hand, all those people who are going bald from putting on and taking off the 13K hat, can finally take a break.
Risk off. On one of the highest volume days in months (for equity cash and futures), ES (the S&P e-mini futures contract) fell over 20pts from high to low following Bernanke's lack of expansionary comment. Right at the close we accelerated very fast losing around 6pts almost instantly as the market had a very jittery feel. The major financials were off 2.5-3% from the 10amET Bernanke speech release (and XLF was down 1.4% from that peak) but it was the precious metals that shocked. Gold had it largest percentage drop (over 5%) since early December 2008 (around $100) and Silver plunged over 7% at its worst, managing to come back a little to close down around 6%. Oil did not follow the Central-Plan (to talk down the print-fest) as WTI pushed back up to $107 and Brent over $123 as the USD rallied aggressively - now up over 0.5% on the week. Treasuries early dislike for the removal of the punchbowl was quickly dismissed as equities sold off this afternoon and we drifted back 1-2bps from high yields of the day (though still higher yields close to close). As we noted two days ago on Twitter, the market seems only capable of reacting to addition or removal of central bank liquidity and what was perhaps odd today was the delayed reaction - one of incredulity maybe at the gall of these printers to stop/pause.
In what is increasingly peculiar market action, gold dropped over $100 intraday, following triggering of $1700 sell limits, at which point sell signals hit every bid all the way to $1685 then a knee jerk bounce appeared, in some rather chaotic late day trading in paper gold. Whether this is due solely to algo driven liquidations following the earlier described shift in sentiment, or has some assistance from central banks is irrelevant as anyone and everyone who is happy to convert paper fiat into hard currencies is taking advantage of this latest short-term rout, to prepare for the next battery of printing which will come with 100% certainty. Remember: as we have been saying since the summer of 2011, Bernanke needs a tumble in stocks to get a green light for more easing, and he obviously won't get that with the S&P where it is, nor with WTI still sticking to $107.
For the first time since the end of January (and for only the 4th day this year) AAPL is trading higher with the S&P trading down... the S&P has surged after each previous event, will it this time or has it lost its QE mojo?
As the ECB supposedly takes it foot off the gas, and EU Summits and 'events' loom large for the careening wagon of shared sacrifice, unity, and sovereign risk, perhaps it is the nodding donkeys of Greek and Italian technocrats juxtaposed with Ireland's feistier "R" word gambit (and of course Zee German Overlords) that makes Art Cashin reflect somewhat philosophically on recent headlines. Their stereotypical interpretation has him concerned as the potential for ever-increasing culture clashes increases across the pond as sour memories and generational hatreds abound.
Everybody has their own "on the ground" recession indicators: the mall parking lot, the tony restaurant that used to be packed every weekend, and so on. I have two favorites: freight trains rumbling south down the main line of the West Coast and "sell your own car" used car lots. The freight trains are self-explanatory: at the top of the housing bubble, they were loaded with flatcars of lumber. Now? A lot of empty flatcars and container flats. A lot. Yes, the official statistics indicate rising rail traffic, but they must mean one more car has a load in a 100-car train and there's only 20 empties. The freight trains I see are still running with beaucoup empty cars. There may be some explanation of why this is so, but I can report that these trains pulled no empties in 2007. "Sell your own car" lots reflect the "private market" for used cars. If you want to know what people are trading in for new cars, then go look at new car dealers' used lots. At the local Honda dealer, I saw a number of Lexus SUVs on their used lot; people trading down to save on gasoline?
Presented with little comment except to say, get some 'price change' context before you start throwing fat finger fantasies around... as 10Y Treasury Futures dropped 0.5% peak to trough while Silver lost at least 2% at a time in 3 legs down...
For those confused, the Fed's Beige Book has been upgraded to the Beige iPad (apparently Ben is not a fan of the black or white version). Regardless, the latest version has just been released spewing forth the usual reflexive platitudes, in which the economy is said to be better because the stock market is higher, and so forth. In other words, the same stuff that completely ignores $110 WTI. Via Bloomberg:
- FED SAYS U.S. ECONOMY EXPANDED AT `MODEST TO MODERATE PACE'
- FED SAYS CONSUMER SPENDING WAS `GENERALLY POSITIVE'
- FED SAYS MANUFACTURING EXPANDED AT `STEADY PACE' NATIONWIDE
And more such headlines which nobody will actually read, except for the algos which scalp the optimistic tone put there precisely for such a purpose.
Dumping yet another liquidity cold shower in the aftermath of today's less than dovish Humphrey Hawkins speech by Bernanke (and sending precious metals even lower, albeit briefly), is the Fed's resumption of even more purely optical liquidity extractions, however symbolic, in the form of reverse repos, after the NY Fed just completed the first such operation since the dark days of summer 2011. As a reminder, the last time the Fed did these was back in August 2011 which cemented the market's plunge as it gave the market the impression that at least superficially no more money was coming in (intuitively it makes no sense to have Reverse Repos running at the same time as incremental liquidity), even as the reliquification baton was quietly being passed to the ECB. Today, reverse repos resume, as the Fed pays Primary Dealers an annualized rate of 0.17% in exchange for lending out $100 million in Treasurys. Will this continue? It depends entirely on what the economy, pardon, the Russell 2000 does. After all, that is the third and only mandate of the Fed that matter. And if the market considers this an indicator that QE3 really is delayed indefinitely, the FRBNY will mostly likely be forced to reassess.
As good news appears to be bad news for now and the hopes of imminent dovish QE3-gasms gets pushed off a week or two, we thought it useful to dig into the mysterious central bank go-to play in a little more detail. Morgan Stanley's European Economics Team asks and answers five of the most frequently discussed questions with regard quantitative easing. From whether QE has worked to inflation fears and concerns over policy normalization and what happens if the public lose confidence in central bank liabilities, we suspect these questions, rather dovishly answered by the MS team, will reappear sooner rather than later, and as they interestingly note, the deployment of central bank balance sheets is, in essence, a confidence trick.
Just like the housing market in the US, following the modest blip higher in December Greek bank deposits, immediately the great unwashed took to calling an end of the Greek deposit outflow and seeing a glorious renaissance for the country's bank industry. Well look again. According to just released data from the Bank of Greece, January saw Greeks doing what they do best (in addition to striking of course): pulling their money from local banks, after a near record €5.3 billion, or the third highest on record, was withdrawn from the local banking system. As a result, total bank cash has now dropped to just €169 billion, down from €174 billion in December, and the lowest since 2006. This is an 18% decline from a year ago, or €37 billion less than the €206 billion last January, and is a whopping 30% lower than the all time deposit highs from 2007, as nearly €70 billion in cash has quietly either left the country or been parked deep in the local mattress bank.
Everyone and their mum knows by now that Italian bonds have rallied since the first LTRO and we are told that this is symptomatic of 'improvement'. While we hate to steal the jam from that doughnut, we note Peter Tchir's interesting chart showing how focused the strength is in the short-end of the bond curve (which we know is thanks to the ECB's SMP program preference and the LTRO skew) but more notably the significantly less ebullient performance of the less manipulated and more fast-money, mark-to-market reality CDS market as we suspect, like him, the CDS is pricing in the longer-term subordination and termed out insolvency risk much more clearly than the illiquid bond market does, and perhaps bears closer scrutiny for a sense of what real risk sentiment really looks like.