It's that time of the month again when, with little fanfare, the NY Fed discreetly discloses on which days of the upcoming month shorting is unadvisable, because on the other end of every sale or short will be none other than Kevin Henry & Co., and some $45 billion in buying power-cum-short stop loss triggers (not to mention every possible Citadel HFT algo operating at a less than arm's length from the Liberty 33 trading desk). In short: we get the advance monthly schedule of POMO days. And as everyone knows, one should never fight the Fed (unless, of course, one is the European Central Bank, the People's Bank of China, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, the Swiss National Bank, and pretty much every other central bank now that the entire world has devolved to outright currency warfare, but let's ignore that particular weak link in the media's propaganda narrative for the time being). So how does April look? In short: for anyone seeking to short the market in order to take advantage of the inevitable end of the Fed's despotic central-Ponzi planning regime (for reference, please see Bernie Madoff): not good.
Since the Cyprus headlines hit, the markets have been 'confused'. Bonds have been bid, protection has been aggressively chased in credit (CDX) and equity markets (VIX), and FX carry markets have completely decoupled from a quarter-end heat-seeking missile of an equity market. Can it last? Who knows, but one way or another these short-term divergences suggest there are better ways than stocks to play a long bet or, alternatively, the marginal buyer of equities here is disconnected from every other asset classes' reality.
The insecurity of self-employment can generate a far more resilient life and mindset. In a sense being self-employed simply means stripping away the artifice that somebody else is going to take care of you or give you "free money." Once we understand the promised security is bogus, self-employment doesn't feel so risky--it feels like embracing the risk that is hidden behind the flimsy facade of team-building, "guaranteed" pensions and all the rest of the unpayable promises.
Europe's Dow-equivalent - the EuroStoxx 50 - closed today negative year-to-date. The divergence between the exuberance in the US and dysphoria in Europe reminds us of 2012 - when exactly the same thing happened. Of course, the fact that stocks are red should come as no surprise since credit markets have been markedly wider on the year for a week or two. Today started off on a bright spot (as there was no blood on the streets of Nicosia) which spurred some buying in European stocks - but into the close that faded quickly with Spain and Italy pushing back into the red (and the rest of the markets following suit). EURUSD surged all day but as Europe closed it retraced a little of the gains - unable to snag 1.2850 (but 100 pips off the lows). German bunds remain bid (2Y at -2.6bps vs Swiss at -0.02bps) as die neue safe haven remains. So Europe ends Q1 in the red; China ends Q1 in the red; and US credit is unchanged in Q1; but US stocks +11% - sustainable?
As we noted yesterday, Slovenia appears the inevitable next player set to experience the non-template of uninsured depositor bail-ins and the good-bank-bad-bank solution that was uniquely applied to Cyprus. However, global investors should rest assured as this miracle of modern financial engineering will not be a detriment to the nations as the Slovenian banks will be internally recapitalized (in the latest proposal) by a government guarantee. Simply put, in the world of European accounting idiocy, Reuters reports "this would not result in an immediate spike in the government's debt level, because the authorities would initially provide banks with guarantees rather than newly issued securities." Which leaves us asking, just how much is a one-week-old Slovenian government's guarantee worth in real money? And why didn't the Cypriot government just 'promise' to do 'whatever it takes' to support their banks' bad assets? Of course the chance of the bailout happening just surged:
- *SLOVENIA WON'T NEED BAILOUT, ECB'S KRANJEC SAYS
When all is said and done, what happened in Cyprus over the past two weeks, is nothing but the culmination of re-marking the "assets" in the country's financial system (which as noted previously, were a preponderance of worthless Greek bonds and countless other non-performing loans), long priced at assorted "myth" levels, to a long overdue reality. As a result of delaying resolving the mismatch between non-performing assets and liabilities for years, the resolution was one which saw some €16 billion of the total asset base impaired, which in turn necessitated the impairment of billions of deposits: the primary liability funding the Cypriot financial system. Furthermore, as a result of the "Freudian Slip" by the Eurogroup's new head earlier this week, we know that Cyprus will be the template for all future bank resolutions, which seek to avoid a government vote and proceed to restructuring the banking sector a la carte, by liquidating bad banks and impairing liabilities to the point where the balance sheet is once again viable (however briefly). The bottom line is that at its core, it is all simply a bad debt problem, and the more the bad debt, the greater the ultimate liability impairments become, including deposits. Which means that the real question in Europe is: how much impairment capacity is there in the various European nations before deposits have to be haircut? Thanks to Credit Suisse we now know the answer.
The miss in the Kansas City Fed data makes it four out of four today for weaker-than-expected macro prints and of course, equity markets are pushing to new highs. Under the surface of each of these reports the data is even more compellingly ugly - and we have seen this pattern of mass delusion before. As the chart below shows (confirming many of our macro-reality to market-unreality divergences) the crash in Kansas City Fed employment data relative to the S&P 500 is as divergent as ever. The last time this happened, things didn't work out so well.
Pinning the blame for the collapse of the Cypriot banking system (and the country itself) on the shoulders of one man may seem harsh but Laiki Bank's chief risk officer Dimitris Spanodimos represents the tip of the spear of mass delusion that encompasses most (if not all) of Europe. Cypriot banks had been swamped with deposits courtesy of their cozy relationship with Russia and this left them with, in Spanodimos' words, "comfortable liquidity and capital position to deepen selectively some highly profitable and highly promising client relationships." In short, they had so much excess that they had to invest it somewhere and given the regulators light tough (which gave the banks a clean bill of health through 2011), they bought Greek government debt and extending huge amounts of mortgage loans (in Greece and Cyprus). So, as the WSJ reports, while everyone else was purging, Spanadimos had swallowed the red pill and decided his banks' gorging on extremely risky investments was tolerable - until of course the EU pulled the plug with the haircuts from the Greek bailout. These losses, and the need for new capital, is why Cyprus needed a bailout - so who is to blame...
Those who were transfixed by whether Cypriots would rumble and unleash their anger at the €300/day dispensing ATMs formerly known as bank branches this morning, may have missed what probably was the most important monthly chart coming out of Europe - that showing aggregate money (M3) growth and, far more importantly, loan creation. Those who did pay attention will know that in February M3 grew quite obediently in a Eurozone flush with cash, this time by a respectable €15 billion, or 3.1% y/y, after €37 billion in January (of which, however a whopping €47 billion was M1 so the balance actually declined). Of course, this was the easy part: creating money via various central bank conduits has never been the issue: the concern has always been getting that money into private consumer hands through loan creation. And it is here that things just keep on getting worse by the day. Because in a continent in which there is no confidence whatsoever: no confidence in the banks, no confidence in the financial system, no confidence in end demand, no confidence in any reported data, no confidence that one's deposits won't be confiscated tomorrow, and last but not least no confidence that a sovereign nation won't just hand over its sovereignty to the Troika tomorrow, nobody is willing to take on additional loans and obligations. This can be seen in the dramatic divergence between European money creation (blue line), and the bank lending to the private sector (brown), which is at or near an all time record year over year low. So much for restoring confidence in Europe.
In what may be a stunning development, today the market may actually respond to an adverse piece of economic news by going lower. The news, in this case was the February Chicago PMI which tumbled from 56.8 to 52.4, the lowest since December and far below expectations of a 56.5 print - the biggest miss in 11 months. This was driven by a plunge in New Orders which tumbled from 60.2 to 53.0, the most since May 2011, although virtually every other components was ugly: Production posted the weakest print since September 2009, Order backlogs had its ninth month of contraction in the last year, Inventories had their 4th contraction in the last six months, Supplier Deliveries were the longest in 15 months, and so on. Ironically, only Employment was relatively normal dropping a small 0.6 from 55.7 to 55.1. And for those claiming there is a housing recovery, we present this excerpt from one of the respondents: "a company we buy steel from, they also pre-cut steel for new home construction, back in 2007 they shipped 110 rig packages per week, today they ship 2 rig packages per week, and for carpenters, for one employed there are 15 unemployed." Housing recovery, sure. How about unleashing the millions and millions in shadow units either entering or exiting the jammed foreclosure pipeline, where millions live mortgage free just to avoid an avalanche of selling? Let's see what recovery you have then.
It's funny how things are done in Europe. Nothing is as it seems. Then everything is orchestrated to try to get you to believe what they want you to believe. The Cyprus fiasco is one good example. The Dutch FinMin broke ranks and spoke the truth; there is now a template in Europe for financial bail-outs which include losses for bond holders and depositors. The ECB had almost all of its members deny that there was any template. Then Spain denied, Portugal was on the tape so many times yesterday denying that you thought it was the newest Cadillac commercial and then virtually every other country in Europe had somebody in the Press with their own denials. "One-off" was the word of the day and the giant European propaganda machine worked well into the night. The problem is the way these things work. The reporters, from any news agency, are handed out stuff from the government. They have to publish it. There is no choice. But why are the Russians not quite so upset as they were at the beginning of the crisis. The answer to this question is Uniastrum bank...
A quick glance at the Larnaca runways, also known as the Russian (and perhaps even other, but that would impair the media narrative that "only Russian tax-evading oligarchs are evil") private jet parking lot, shows that things are as heated as ever, although maybe just a tad less heated. Channel 4's Faisal Islam observes that while there are 12 private jets on the tarmac, this is one less then ten days ago. When this number drop to zero, the Cypriot depression has officially begun.
The extrapolators had expected an initial jobless claims print below 340k as the recent trend of noisy drift lower was expected to continue but alas it was not to be. The stretched rubber band of Arima-X revisions and adjustments had to correct sooner or later and sure enough, with a jump of 16,000 this week, initial claims missed expectations by the most since the second week of November (following Hurricane Sandy). The chaotic idiocy continues in Emergency Unemployment Compensation (which jumped 125k in the latest week) as the footprint of statistical manipulation is oh so evident in the V-Fib-like chart below.
Moments ago, as we prepare to put Q1 2013 to a close with a bout of window dressing that will send the S&P to all time highs, we got the final Q4 2012 GDP revision: a number largely meaningless, although it does put closure to the economy in 2012. And as with all economic numbers in the past year, it was not pretty, coming in at 0.37%, below estimates of a 0.5% print, although modestly better than the second Q4 revision when it was 0.14%. The full breakdown by various components is shown below, with the most notable, Personal Consumption Expenditures, showing a gradual and consistent decline over the past three months as it was revised relentlessly lower, dropping from 1.52% in the first revision, to 1.47% in the second, to 1.28% in the final. Offsetting this was a jump in Fixed Investment which rose to 1.69%, the highest since Q3 2011. Supposedly this implies that capital spending is soaring, when in reality companies continue to curb CapEx plans, instead focusing on short term shareholder gains such as buybacks and dividends, which is to be expected in the absence of any actual end-demand.
The decision to crush Cypriot depositors (first all of them, then just the uninsured ones) came in March, without any prior hints of the carnage that was about to be unleashed upon Cypriot bank unsecured liabilities. Or so the media narrative goes, because the last thing needed is to give skeptics any indication the "ad hoc" Troika plan was not so ad hoc after all, and some individuals - notably the whale depositors - were warned in advance, sparing them the indignity of pulling a few billion at €300 per day. Alas, as just released central bank data shows, there may be cracks in the narrative because in February, at a time when the Eurozone was supposedly getting better every day and the Dow Jones was on the verge of its all time high, Cypriot depositors pulled the largest amount of cash in over three years.