"Asia is a study in contrasts. It is home to economic freedom and political liberty; it is also home to political instability and tyranny. Some of Asia’s borders are unsettled and volatile. And military budgets and capabilities are expanding, sometimes faster than economic growth. The rise of China as a great power presents both sides of this equation. It is being watched carefully by all the countries of the region. It is the U.S. that is recognized as the catalyst in ensuring a prosperous peace over conflict. America is a Pacific power. That much is a matter of geography and history. But the facts – and America’s principles and interests – demand more than resignation to geography. They call for continued American leadership, commitment, and the predominant comprehensive power that has enabled Asia’s very welcomed, opportunity-laden rise." Thus prefaces the Heritage Foundation its Asian 'Book of Charts', which summarizes most of the key economic, financial, trade, geopolitical, most importantly militaristic tensions both in Asia and, by dint of being the global marginal economic force, the world itself. And while we will present the complete deck shortly, of particular interest we find the summary in 7 easy charts how Asia is slowly but surely catching up on that accepted by conventional wisdom GloboCop - the United States.
Macroeconomic issues currently playing out in Europe, Asia, and the United States may be linked by the same dynamic: over-leveraged banking systems concerned about repayment from public- and private-sector borrowers, and the implication that curtailment or non-payment would have on their balance sheets. Global banks are linked or segregated by the currencies in which they lend. Given the currencies in which their loan assets are denominated, market handicapping of the timing of relative bank vulnerability is directly impacting the relative value of currencies in the foreign exchange market, which makes it appear that the US dollar (and economy?) is, as Pimco notes, “the cleanest dirty shirt”. Is there a clean shirt anywhere – creased, pressed and folded? QBAMCO's Paul Brodsky (in a deep dramatic voice-over) sets the scene: In a world where time series stand still... and real purchasing power value has no meaning... a few monetary bodies stand between economic death and destruction... between commercial hope and financial despair... between risk-free returns and return-free risk. Amid this set of conditions it seems entirely prudent to position purchasing power in vehicles that would benefit as the nominal stock of base money grows at a rate far in excess of the gold stock growth rate.
Libor is not a market determined interest rate, rather it is a trimmed mean from a survey of banks participating in a survey conducted on behalf of the British Bankers Association (BBA). There are a number of problems inherent in the survey-based Libor calculation. Chairman Bernanke was asked in testimony several times yesterday whether Libor should be dropped as a benchmark interest rate. His answer was Libor should be repaired or some market determined interest rate should be embraced as an alternative. He offered up 2 market-determined replacement possibilities for Libor: (1) Repo Rates; and (2) OIS rates. Both are market determined interest rates, but neither in our minds captures the essence of what Libor is supposed to measure. Stone & McCarthy's preference for a Libor alternative would simply be the eurodollar rate.
There was yet another European Union summit at the end of June, which (like all the others) was little more than bluff. Read the official communiqué and you will discover that there were some fine words and intentions, but not a lot actually happened. The big news in this is the implication the ECB will, in time, be able to stand behind the Eurozone banks because it will accept responsibility for them. This is probably why the markets rallied on the announcement, but it turned out to be another dead cat lacking the elastic potential energy necessary to bounce. Meanwhile, Germany, meant to be the back-stop for this lunacy, is losing patience. It has become clear that the agreements that arose out of the June summit were not agreements at all. The questions arises: How can the Eurozone stay together, and if not, how quickly is it likely to start disintegrating? And where does the exchange rate for the euro fit in all this?
UPDATE: AXP (down AH) and IBM (up AH) miss top-line; QCOM misses everything and guides down (up AH - AAPL staggered a little but unch now), EBAY beat (small up AH); KMI miss (down AH)
Far be it from us to say but once again equity markets spurted far and away beyond credit, interest rates, FX carry, commodities, and reality would have expected with only good-old VIX crashing to breathe that levered life into them. Ending the day with a 15 handle, VIX closed at its lowest in over three-and-a-half months and notably beyond where equity and credit relationships would expect as the front-end of the curve remains under huge pressure. Gold, the USD, and Treasury yields all played along on the day - trading with a decent correlation in a relatively narrow range but the open of the US day-session saw the appearance of the infamous equity rally-monkey who lifted us 1% in 30 mins then extended 10 more points into the European close. EUR roundtripped on the day leaving USD practically unch but -0.35% on the week. Credit markets were quiet (cash busier than synthetic) as IG, HY, and HYG all underperformed for the second day. Gold and Silver limped lower on the day as WTI surged back above $90 to two month highs. Treasuries traded in a very narrow range ending the day -2bps across the curve. Financials underperformed as Tech and Industrials reached for the skies with a 1.75% boost today (makes perfect sense after the earnings?). Decent average trade size on the day which was more prevalent up above 1365 suggests more unwinds of blocks into strength but something has to give with VIX for this train to stop running.
We thought it was coming (as we wrote yesterday); we heard the rumors; but now the 'temporary liquidity problem' that faced Sicily has been resolved by... yes, you guessed it - the transfer of EUR400 million from the Italian government. Do not worry though. As one official noted "there's no default risk for Sicily, whose budget was in surplus in 2010 and 2011". Unbelievable.
"The developments in Sicily are very serious," said Prof Giuseppe Ragusa from Luiss University in Rome. "It is just the sort of negative shock we don’t want right now. Everything has to go perfectly for Italy to pull through."
Hedging basic equity positions with options is nothing new. Buying Puts or selling calls to protect or enhance your position is not uncommon. The relative price that is paid (or received) for that protection is the implied volatility - it is the lever with which supply and demand for protection is turned. Strategies to hedge large equity positions have become more and more complex (as more and more complex instruments have become available). A more advanced strategy is to buy risk-reversals (long out-of-the-money VIX calls against short out-of-the-money VIX puts) which creates a 'synthetic long volatility position' to hedge the long equity underlying position. This strategy has been very successful in hedging downside in the S&P 500 since the crisis began. The last few weeks has seen the return from the hedged strategy converge to the S&P 500's performance and we suspect this has been the trigger for exits. This unwind of a very popular risk-reversal hedge in VIX options is implicitly like selling volatility - hence the dramatic outperformance of front-month vol even as stocks and credit are not soaring to such highs. Watching the skew between VIX calls and puts may give us some sign that this exuberant compression is over.
As we discussed recently, the idea of retirement - given ZIRP (or even NIRP) - remains further and further away for many middle-aged men and women in America. But Michael Cembalest has some sage advice for those who are passing 50 years old with whimsical views of Viagra-commercial-like retirement settings any time soon. Based on recent research from the Munich center for the economics of aging, one should keep working as long as possible (the precipitous drop in cognitive function once retirement is hit is enormous) - which also offers some insight into why the long-term unemployed suffer so much more in ever getting back into the work-force. More importantly, it seems as we pass that magic 50 year-old barrier, so men's cognitive function plunges far quicker than women's - especially in immediate and delayed recall (where did I leave my keys?). The bottom line is, if you want to succeed later in age: get a job; keep a job; work that job longer; and become a woman!
From UBS: "We think that a creditor nation is less at risk of hyperinflation than a debtor nation, as a debtor nation relies not only on the confidence of domestic creditors, but also of foreign creditors. We therefore think that the hyperinflation risk to global investors is largest in the US and the UK. The more the fiscal situation deteriorates and the more central banks debase their currencies, the higher the risk of a loss of confidence in the future purchasing power of money. Indicators to watch in order to determine the risk of hyperinflation therefore pertain to the fiscal situation and monetary policy stance in high-deficit countries. Note that current government deficits and the current size of central bank balance sheets are not sufficient to indicate the sustainability of the fiscal or monetary policy stance and thus, the risk of hyperinflation. The fiscal situation can worsen without affecting the current fiscal deficit, for example when governments assume contingent liabilities of the banking system or when the economic outlook worsens unexpectedly. Similarly, the monetary policy stance can expand without affecting the size of the central bank balance sheet. This happens for example when central banks lower collateral requirements or monetary policy rates, in particular the interest rate paid on reserves deposited with the central bank. A significant deterioration of the fiscal situation or a significant expansion of the monetary policy stance in the large-deficit countries could lead us to increase the probability we assign to the risk of hyperinflation."
The Fed's Beige Book was just released and for those looking for cliff-dropping and panic-driven views of the plunge in the economy, we are sorry. The Beige Book was, well, beige. Some headlines, via Bloomberg:
- *FED SAW WEAKER U.S. MANUFACTURING, RETAIL SPENDING LAST MONTH
- *FED SAYS LOAN DEMAND `GREW MODESTLY' IN MOST DISTRICTS
- *FED SAYS MANUFACTURING EXPANDED `SLOWLY' IN MOST DISTRICTS
- *FED: HOUSING MARKET REPORTS `LARGELY POSITIVE'
- *FED SAYS DISTRICTS' BUSINESS CONTACTS `CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC'
The word-cloud highlights the 'continued activity' though does note 'demand pressures', 'slowed markets' and 'sales conditions'. Maybe we will just muddle through with our lower earnings and weaker outlooks but never quite bad enough to get Ben off the bench.
The number of casualties in the Bulgarian bus explosion (reported earlier) is not even known yet, but Israel already knows just who is behind it:
- ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER SAYS SIGNS THAT IRAN BEHIND BURGAS BOMBING -RTRS
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Iran is responsible for the terror attack in Bulgaria, we will have a strong response against Iranian terror." - Haaretz
- CARNEY SAYS OBAMA BRIEFED ON BULGARIA BLAST THAT HIT ISRAELIS
- CARNEY SAYS US NOT IN POSITION TO SAY WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BUS ATTACK
And here we were wondering why crude spiked above $90 for the first time in months earlier today.
CNBC's Rick Santelli is goaded into responding to the easing-based hope that is driving stock prices and levitating every risk asset class. "Enough is enough", he notes, quoting Volcker's recent comments, "as we have to let the economy sink or swim on its own at this point." Liesman's responds by stepping away a little from his comments as he leaves Bernanke alone believing that QE will do some good at the margin (while the economic reporter remains less sure). Implicit in his downgrade of the economy is an increase in the probability of additional QE and retail sales sank the ship. A little later in this brief clip, Rick goes full-Santelli - feeling the need to add a third pillar to the Fed's mandate "if we see something wrong in the market, it's our job to do something about it" with Bernanke's response being "it's not my job". Critically, Rick notes, "if anybody listening or watching right now ever thinks that more regulators will ever stop anything, you have to watch Ben Bernanke - appears to be an honest guy and straightforward though I don't always agree with him - saying 'it's not my job. I don't regulate that.' unbelievable!" The CYA, not-my-problem, someone-else-did-it, keep-my-job mentality when it's front-and-center in the most powerful financial entity in the world is deplorable.
Some rather unexpected rational insight out of Bernanke responding to Patrick McHenry's question on whether and how much more QE the Fed can do:
- "I assume there is a theoretical limit on QE as the Fed can only buy TSYs and Agencies"
- "If the Fed owned too much TSYs and Agencies it would hurt the market"
But in closing:
- "We still have some capacity at this point."
Perhaps the market was expecting that the Fed would admit it can buy ETFs and REITs like the BOJ, or that it can sell vol into the single digits, as its New York Fed trading desk is rumored to be doing, but this is hardly the stamp of endorsement to buy any stock come hell or high water that the algos now expect out of the Fed.