May 16th, 2012
Now that we have entered the summer phase of 2012 it is time to recall how the summer of 2011 ran: in a nutshell - unsubstantiated rumor emerges usually one involving central banks being "generous", sending stocks higher, rumor is then denied a few hours later, but the ramp persists. Sure enough, it has begun anew (because 2012 is 2011). Minutes ago we got the first such instance, where a European "think tank" came up with the brilliant conclusion that any minute now the ECB will be dragged back into the fray, announcing either LTRO 3 (because it will be different this time), or after 9 weeks of inactivity, the ECB's SMP program will resume buying plunging peripheral bonds. Any factual basis to this? Of course not. But once the algos pick up the headline and create buying momentum for the sake of buying momentum, it is all uphill from there. So just as the market was on the verge of turning red for the day, the "think tank" appeared. Prepare for many more such short covering instances, because there really is nothing else left in the status quo arsenal.
You saw it all unfold here blow by blow yesterday. Now Art Cashin gives the post-mortem.
Today begins the 17th annual pilgrimage of hedge-funders near and far to the Ira Sohn conference, where some of the "best and brightest" share their top picks with everyone else in an attempt to generate a buying (or shorting) frenzy and more hedge fund hotel traps. Sadly, this is what to many passes for alpha these days. Yet does the Ira Sohn conference actually lead to any outperformance? Well, Absolute Return has compiled the 1 year return of the recommended investments from last year's conference. The results are absolutely abysmal. Which makes us wonder if the time of groupthink has peaked, and instead the time to fade absolutely everything to come out of such conferences, where analysts pretend to do homework by piggybacking on others' often times very, very wrong research, and which confuse beta expansion with alpha, has come.
Only two weeks ago, we noted that the 30 most systemically important financial institutions in the world were seeing risk surging to 3-month highs. Today has seen that eclipsed dramatically as the credit risk of these entities soars to the year's worst levels jumping 22% in the last two weeks alone. At 264bps, we are now close to the 3/9/09 peak crisis levels (of 274bps) and pushing up to the Q4 2011 peaks over 300bps as every region is deteriorating systemically - with the US and Europe worst (US below previous peak levels but Europe at record wides), Asia accelerating wider, and even the Aussie banks now losing it. While markets are staging a mini-recovery this morning, financials are not really participating as this index of global systemic risk has now retraced all of the LTRO benefits.
If indications become reality then we are faced with a leftist government in Greece that will either renegotiate a new bailout agreement with Europe or it will head back to the Drachma or be forced there by the refusal of European Union to provide any additional funds. In Spain we are faced with bare bones arithmetic where the country cannot bailout its Regional debt and its back debt because they do not have the capital to do either; much less both. Both countries can flop about for a brief period of time but the conclusions are unavoidable we are afraid and so a very unpleasant landscape awaits us in the coming days. We have warned about all of this for quite some time and we have hammered upon it in recent days as equities, credit/risk assets, the Euro have all declined in value as I had predicted. There may well be a bounce or two along the way but we continue to maintain that dark days lie ahead based not only upon fundamentals but based upon a union in Europe that has been deceptive in presentation and deceitful in practice.
Following several months of permits rising even as starts flatlined, today we get the opposite, as forward looking construction came weaker than expected, with permits printing at 715K on expectations of 730K, while starts coming ahead at 717K on expectations of 685K. Completions soared as backlogs caught up with inventory started and under construction. Really, that's all one can say about these two series, who long-term charts can be seen below. What can one say but crawling at the bottom, and increasing modestly courtesy of trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus, and as of recently full-blown mortgage debt forgiveness courtesy of this country's desperate administration to get some traction in at least one metric of economic improvement.
Here are some hard facts that support what I made clear about Facebook last year - underwriters' dream, fundamental investor's nightmare. Happy Hyperinflated IPOing!
Two months ago, to much fanfare, Greece and the IIF announced what a smashing success the forced cram down that was the Greek PSI (memories of GM and Chrysler should be flooding back here) was. The thinking went that Greece avoided bankruptcy, co-opted lemming creditors avoided pursuing what is rightfully theirs in exchange for a 75% haircut, hold out hedge funds would be blown out of the water for daring to not go with the herd of 96.6%, but most importantly, Europe was saved! Today, Europe is no longer saved, and all those hedge funds that folded like cheap lawn chairs in agreeing to Europe's extortion are getting annihilated, because as the chart below shows, the NEW Greek bonds have now seen their dollar price cut in half since the PSI. Which means that total looses on original Greek debt, for those who did agree to the PSI's arm-twisisting terms are now about 90%. Just desserts. But what happened to those other few who followed our advice, bought UK-law bonds, and told the group to shove it? Here's what...
European equities are seen lower across the board with the exception of the CAC-40 index as markets remain nervous towards the prospect of a second wave of Greek general elections. The outperformance of the CAC-40 follows the news from oil major Total, who have stemmed the gas leak from their Elgin well successfully after conducting intervention. As such, Total are seen higher by over 2%, strongly above the Oil & Gas sector. The Bank of England have released their latest projections for the UK economy, revising lower their growth forecasts and higher their near-term inflation expectations, alongside analyst forecasts. The BoE have stuck to their long-term predictions that there will be a slow but steady return to recovery, but reiterated that major downside risks exist from Europe. Governor King’s subsequent press conference has shown him to remain somewhat dovish, commenting that an increase in downside risks would prompt the bank to commit to further actions, leaving the door to a boost in asset purchases open. The forecast revisions prompted a sharp move lower in GBP/USD, falling around 75 pips and Gilt futures moving 55 ticks to the upside after the opening comments. At the midpoint of the session, GBP/USD remains in negative territory despite seeing support before the inflation report after better than expected UK jobless claims data.
Billionaire investor George Soros significantly increased his shares in the SPDR Gold Trust in the first quarter. Soros Fund Management nearly quadrupled its investment in the largest exchange-traded gold fund (GLD) to 319,550 shares - compared with 85,450 shares at the end of the fourth quarter. John Paulson maintained his large stake, the ETF’s largest stake and other large and respected institutional buyers were PIMCO and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Paulson, 56, who became a billionaire in 2007 by betting against the U.S. subprime mortgage market, told clients in February that gold is a good long term investment, serving as protection against currency debasement, rising inflation and a possible breakup of the euro. Eric Mindich’s Eton Park Capital also bought 739,117 shares in the SPDR Gold Trust during the first quarter. The New York-based fund held no shares of the exchange-traded product as of December 31. Overall holdings in the SPDR Trust rose just over 8% in the first quarter, after a 2% gain in Q4 2011.
- Facebook's selling shareholders can't wait to get out of company, increase offering by 25% (Bloomberg)
- Boehner Draws Line in Sand on Debt (WSJ)
- Romney Attacks Obama Over Recovery Citing U.S. Debt Load (Bloomberg)
- BHP chairman says commodity markets to cool further (Reuters)
- Merkel’s First Hollande Meeting Yields Growth Signal for Greece (Bloomberg)
- Greek President Told Banks Anxious as Deposits Pulled (Bloomberg)
- EU to push for binding investor pay votes (FT)
- Martin Wolf: Era of a diminished superpower (FT)
- China’s Hong Kong Home-Buying Influx Wanes, Midland Says (Bloomberg)
- U.N. and Iran agree to keep talking on nuclear (Reuters)
- US nears deal to reopen Afghan supply route (FT)
Overnight: just more of the same, as markets collapsed, first in Asia, then in Europe, on ever more concerns what a Greek exit would do to Europe. The most important story of the night was a report in Dutch Dagblad claiming that ECB has turned off the tap for Greek bank liquidity: "At the end of January, Greek banks had received EUR73 billion in liquidity support from the ECB, but this amount has dropped by more than 50% now, according to the newspaper. The ECB is cutting back support because Greece has been holding off on recapitalizing its banking system, despite receiving EUR25 billion in funds for that purpose, the paper says." Whether this move is to force Greece to blink (even more) by making the previously reported bank run even more acute, or just general European stupidity, is unclear but it is certain to make the funding stresses across all of Europe far more acute. The news sent all peripheral bond yields soaring, and the EURUSD tumbling to under 1.27 briefly.