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Revisiting The Greek "Razor's Edge"

With the impending March 20th maturity GGBs trading at 1400% yield (or 36% of par), EURUSD trading at 1.31, and European financials (and Greek financials explicitly) all up considerably, one could be forgiven for confusion as to what is priced in and what is not. As Bank of America (BAML) noted earlier in the year, believe it or not, Greece remains a blind spot and that risks from Greece are not fully priced in. Summarizing the deep cuts that Greece is expected to make - the Troika is demanding fiscal measures of 2% of GDP in 2012 - BAML points out that while they believe a common ground can be found, the asymmetric risks of a disorderly default could weaken the EUR well below their projection of 1.25 in the first half of the year. Certainly, while Greek sovereign bond markets seem priced for inevitable default (as real cashflows still count in the credit markets), FX and equity markets seem to be jumping-the-shark of the crisis - Europe will be stronger without Greece and Fed will backstop inevitable crisis - and missing the interim crisis conditions (Lehman-moments) that will occur as tail-risk scenarios and social unrest (that LTRO seems to have assuaged for now in people's minds) could return rapidly across the entire region. With frustration growing between an impatient Troika (that faces total humiliation, moral hazard, and ugly precedents for others) and a stubborn April-election-facing political class in Greece (along with the inability of the PSI to get done for all the reasons we have discussed in the past - foreign law bonds, basis traders, hedged positions, hedge fund sovereign litigation arbs) it seems the Troika has the most to lose for now seemingly holding a gun to their own head (as once again a massive ECB intervention might be needed with all its knock-on effects on the Fed's balance sheet expansion).

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New Art Cashin Reminder Of An Old Threat

On Friday, Zero Hedge presented an extensive refresh on the one latent hotbed of troubles that everyone has conveniently forgotten about, yet which is getting worse by the day: the Mediterranean region, in "What Lies In Store For The "Cradle That Rocks The World" - A History Lesson In Crisis" and specifically Egypt -that most populous Arab nation, which last time we checked, is still Israel's neighbor (and which still controls the Suez canal). Still, for some of our more attention troubled readers who may have passed on the Friday piece, here is a much shorter version from Art Cashin which focuses on just one of numerous variables in play - the relationship between the controlling military and the resurgent Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, in deposing of Mubarak, the US has once again done its bull in a china shop approach to foreign relations and replaced one quite predictable dictator with a bevy of far more dangerous unknowns. Cashin's conclusion is traditionally cryptic and ominous: "The most populous Arab nation on the Earth and Israel’s closest neighbor is on the verge of something dramatic and potentially very, very dangerous. Watch carefully and constantly."

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Guest Post: “Nobody understands Debt (But Me)”

Luckily they are easy to spot: the demagogues, the manipulators and the hired claqueurs. Unfortunately, there is no lack of media willing to provide a platform to perform their insidious game. “We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrong-headed, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in its way.”How can a Nobel-prize carrying economist, who is presumably smart, write such nonsense? “He knows better”, says Jim Rickards (author of “Currency Wars”). And that makes Krugman so dangerous. Decision makers will reference his “debt does not matter” mantra over and over again – until it’s over. Thank you, Mayfly. You really understand debt – and how to make others believe it doesn’t matter.

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Shipping Rates Go... Negative

Following the endless collapse in the Baltic Dry, it was only a matter of time before the shipping industry one-upped the Chairsatan, and was the first to introduce, dum dum dum, negative rates. That's right: you are now paid to hire a ship.


Why is this happening? Perhaps because ships have to be kept seaworthy and in motion or else they become scrappage in as little time as 3 months. Think sharks. Needless to say, this will play havoc with shipping company (and affiliated entities') liquidity, as the biggest default wave in the history of the industry is about to be unleashed and tens if not hundreds of billions of European secured loans are about to be "impaired."

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JP Morgan Advises Its Clients To Read Zero Hedge Three Weeks Ago

Three weeks ago, Zero Hedge was the first to bring the world's attention to the legal (and explicit trading/risk) ramifications of European sovereign bonds. We noted the ECB/IMF's subordinating impact on unsuspecting sovereign bond holders but much more explicitly showed the huge gap in market perception between domestic- and foreign-law bonds (and the fact that they have very different ramifications given the rising tendency for retroactive CACs or simply local-law changes to accommodate restructurings). The arbitrage of "dumping all weak protection bonds and jumping to the 'strong' ones" which we preached is indeed occurring and now three weeks later, JP Morgan is suggesting its clients take advantage of this same arbitrage strategy (citing the very same thesis and legal justifications as we did) as domestic law bonds offer significant advantages to the sovereign (and therefore implicit disadvantages to the lender or bond holder just as we said) relative to foreign law bonds. While we are flattered that our analysis is deemed worthy of mainstream sell-side research regurgitation, we caveat the celebration with the concern that perhaps JP Morgan already took advantage of the information a 'fringe blog' provided to the world (as we know many funds did given the requests for more explicit bond details) and is now looking to unwind the profitable (though modestly illiquid) positions it has been accumulating for the past three weeks.

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US Severs Diplomatic Ties With Syria, Closes Embassy, Pulls Diplomats

Two months ago, Hillary told all Americans to get "immediately out of the 'dodge' known as Syria. Today, the request is formally an order, following an AP report that the US has just severed ties with Syria.

  • US closes embassy in Damascus, pulls American diplomats out of Syria - AP

And now, go back to watching Go Daddy ads of women painting women.

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Time To Buy CDS On The Boston Fed?


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Bill Gross On Minsky's Take Of The Liquidity Trap: From "Hedge" To "Securitised" To "Ponzi"

Over the weekend, we commented on Dylan Grice's seminal analysis which excoriates the central planning "fools", who are perpetually caught in the "lost pilot" paradigm, whereby the world's central planners increasingly operate by the mantra of “I have no idea where we’re going, but we’re making good time!” and which confirms that in the absence of real resolutions to problems created by a century of flawed economic models, the only option is to continue doubling down until terminal failure. Basically, the take home message there is that once "economists" get lost in trying to correct the errata their own models output as a result of faulty assumptions (which they always are able to "explain away" as one time events), they drift ever further into unknown territory until finally we end up with such monetary aberrations as "liquidity traps", "zero bound yields" and, soon, NIRP (which comes after ZIRP), if indeed the Treasury proceeds with negative yields beginning in May under the tutelage of the Goldman-JPM chaired Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee. Today, it is Bill Gross who takes the Grice perspective one step further, and looks at implications for liquidity, and the lack thereof, in a world where one of the three primary functions of modern financial intermediaries - maturity transformation (the other two being credit and liquidity transformation) is terminally broken. He then juxtaposes this in the context of Hyman Minsky's monetary theories, and concludes: "What incentive does a US bank have to extend maturity to a two- or three-year term when Treasury rates at that level of the curve are below the 25 basis points available to them overnight from the Fed? What incentive does Pimco or banks have to buy five-year Treasuries at 75bp when the maximum upside capital gain is two per cent of par and the downside substantially more?" In other words, Pimco is finally grasping just how ZIRP is punking it and its clients. It also means that very soon all the maturity, and soon, credit risk of the world will be on the shoulders of the Fed, which in turn labor under a false economic paradigm. And one wonders why nobody has any faith left in these here "capital markets"...

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JPM Buys Greece For $2?

While we wait for the antics in Greece to result in some announcement, I can’t help but think about how different the Greek situation is from when JPM bought Bear Stearns (shortly after the last time the Giants won the super bowl). The “weekend” deadline for Bear was neither artificial, nor self-imposed. Without a deal, Bear would have failed that week as risk aversion hit an extreme. Greece has until the March 20th payments, so all the deadlines we keep hearing about are mostly negotiating ploys. The negotiators in Greece will have to approve whatever they decide, so they will need some time. When Jamie Dimon said “done” on the Bear deal, it was done. It also meant a very savvy investor had his people do the analysis and was comfortable with the deal (I’m sure the Fed backstop didn’t hurt). But in Europe, almost none of the people involved in the negotiations have the authority to “pull the trigger”. They have to go back to their respective parties or groups or special interests they represent and get the deals approved. Even more bizarre, is how few of the people involved have financial experience, let alone investment experience. They are largely politicians. The Minister of Finance was the Minister of Defense less than a year ago. The IIF team has limited experience in distressed debt. The “technocrat” in charge has experience, but like many of the Troika members it is as an economist in a functioning economy – not the disaster that is Greece.

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Daily US Opening News And Market Re-Cap: February 6

Weekend talks between Greek government officials failed to reach a definitive conclusion and as such market sentiment has been risk averse across the asset classes. The equity market has been chiefly weighed upon by the banking sector and as such underpinned the rise in fixed income futures. However, recent trade has seen a slight pullback led by tightening of the French spreads on reports of good domestic buying noted in the belly of the French curve. Today marks the deadline for Greece to provide feedback as to the proposed bailout terms put forth by the Troika, but with continued disagreement on the fine print in the additional austerity proposals, market participants remain disappointed in the lack of progress. Of note a PASOK spokesman has said that Greece should not hold a general election after clinching an agreement on a second bailout package, suggesting instead an extension of Lucas Papademos' tenure. However, the two main unions of Greece have called for a 24hr strike on Tuesday. Looking ahead there is little in the way of major US economic data today so Greece will likely remain the dominant theme for the rest of the session.

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Frontrunning: February 6

  • Greeks Struggle to Resolve Their Differences (WSJ)
  • China May See Deeper Slowdown on Crisis: IMF (Bloomberg)
  • Banks to take a hit on US home loans (FT)
  • Europe’s banks face challenge on capital (FT)
  • Smaller Interest-Rate, Credit-Default Swap Trades Seen On Horizon  (WSJ)
  • Pro-European elected Finland president (FT)
  • Push Sputters for Credit-Default Swap Futures (WSJ)
  • China Money Rate Rises as Central Bank Gauges Demand for Bills (Bloomberg)
  • China Takes On Skeptics of Aid to Euro Zone (WSJ)

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A Shift In European Sentiment - Is Germany Prepared To Let Greece Default?

Something quite notable has shifted in recent weeks in Europe, and it originates at the European paymaster - Germany. While in the past it was of utmost importance to define any Greek default as voluntary (if one even dared whisper about it), and that the money allocated to keep the Eurozone whole would be virtually limitless, this is no longer the case. In fact, reading between the headlines in the past week, it becomes increasingly obvious that Greece will very soon become a new Lehman, i.e., a case study where the leaders are overly confident they can predict the outcomes of letting a critical entity default, and manage the consequences. Alas, this only proves they have learned nothing from the Lehman case, and the aftermath is still not only unpredictable but uncontrollable. But that's a bridge that Europe will cross very shortly. And what is truly frightening is that this crossing may happen even before the next LTRO hits the banks' balance sheets, thus not affording Euro banks with sufficient capital to withstand the capital outflow and funds the unexpected. In the meantime, here is UBS summarizing the palpable change in European outlook over Greece, and over the entire "Firewall" protocol.

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Stocks And Euro Fall (€1,315/oz) As Possible Greek Default Looms

Gold has followed the now familiar trading pattern of gains in Asia followed by weakness in Europe. While gold has fallen and is weaker in most currencies gold remains higher in euro terms due to euro weakness on the concern of a Greek default. Spot gold bounced back in Asian trading Monday as investors snatched up bargains after a 2% dip the previous session.  The Greek debt debacle is still supporting the price as a deal remains elusive. There continue to be concerns of a “Lehman moment” but markets remain fairly sanguine of a positive outcome despite the continual risk of a Greek default.  Gold remains an essential diversification as central banks keep money loose with record low interest rates and Asian powerhouses China and India still drive demand.  Silver has also fallen this morning. Barclays Capital, who have been quite bearish on silver in recent years, say that they are “expecting prices to rise in the next few sessions, along with gold, pegging silver's next resistance level at $35.70/oz and support near $33/oz.”

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Summary Of Key Events In The Coming Week

In contrast with better news from macro data, the negotiations about the next Greek package intensified and this will likely remain the key focus in the upcoming week. On one hand, the present value reduction in a PSI has still not been formally agreed. On the other, the Greek Government still has to commit to more reforms in order for the Troika to agree to a new program. A key deadline for this commitment is on Monday at 11am local time in Athens. Eurogroup President Juncker has talked openly about the possibility of a default on Saturday in the German weekly Der Spiegel. Beyond the ongoing focus on Greece, the week sees a relatively heavy concentration in central bank meetings, including the RBA, ECB, BOE, Poland, Indonesia and a few others. On the data side, the focus is likely on the December IP numbers due in a number of countries, including in some key Eurozone countries (Germany, Italy, France).

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