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RANsquawk European Morning Briefing - 10/02/12

Summary of stock, bond, commodity and FX news.



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Bank Of America Details The Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement

Most people read the headlines (and heard Obama tell us) today that the federal government and 49 state attorneys general reached a $25bn agreement with the five largest mortgage servicers to address mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure abuses. It seems that many people are unclear on what the implications of the various aspects of the settlement are and so we present Bank of America's concise summary of the costs, commitments, penalties, and scope of the long-awaited agreement. Theoretically this by no means closes the book on bank litigation liabilities, as BofA discusses, but we note very mixed performance post the settlement announcement (which admittedly seemed well telegraphed) as WFC rallied modestly (+0.2% from the 10amET announcement), with Citi (-1.2% from the announcement), BofA (-0.85%), and JPM (-0.4%) underperforming.



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Infographic: Presenting A World Covered In (Hundred Dollar Bill) Debt

Our friends at Demonocracy have once again surpassed themselves, and have followed up the infographic showing the truckloads of cash that are needed to rescue the insolvent PIIGS, with this masterpiece which, while making the naive assumption that debt is represented by physical paper (when it is nothing but a bunch of electronic ones and zeros stored in various computers around the world), presents in gloriously visual terms precisely what the literal debt burden of the world's would look like expressed in piles of one hundred dollar bills. The result is quite stunning...



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Greece Is Nicht Sehr Happy With Frau Merkel

The Greek daily http://www.dimokratianews.gr/ (price 1 Euro, not 2000 Drachma) may have summarized best what at least a prominent subsegment of Greece feels toward Die Frau, who quite adeptly managed to dodge the Greek "pledge"  gambit, so thoroughly discussed earlier, and put the ball back in the Lucas Papademos' court, who now must be tearing his hair out: not only did Europe put him in his current position, but now it is the same Europe who no longer wants him in... What's a former ECB apparatchik and Trilateral Commission member to do...



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Pimco Borrows A Record $88 Billion To Bet On Fed's Upcoming MBS Monetization

Regular readers of Zero Hedge know that in recent months tracking the portfolio and thoughts of one Bill Gross via the holdings of his flagship Total Return Fund (which just jumped by $6 billion in the past month and is just shy of its all time record north of $250 billion) has meant one thing and one thing only: betting on the Fed monetizing Mortgage Backed Securities or bust. Well, in January he just took it to a whole new level. The fund has now borrowed a record $88 billion, or -35% of its AUM, in cash (shows how much he thinks of the dollar) and used the proceeds (together with dumping European sovereign bonds from 18% to 11% of AUM) to bet on MBS which now stood at a whopping 50% of the entire portfolio - the highest since July 2009 when QE1 was in full force. However, in absolute dollar terms, due to the growth of the fund's AUM, the actual bet on MBS has never been bigger, and at $125 billion, represents the biggest notional bet ever made by PIMCO. Treasury holdings of just over $100 billion with an effective duration of 6.33 complete the epic bet that the fund has now put on QE3.



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Guest Post: Stop The (Printing) Press!.... If Only We Could

Hands up anyone who is surprised that the Bank of England has added another £50 billion to the quantitative easing pot? The same hands will also believe that the Greeks have agreed terms for the next bail out tranche with the Troika (the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank). This ongoing epic odyssey of the voyage to nowhere has grabbed the headlines, but the BoE’s quiet announcement is equally significant to us Brits. Central banks never utter the words quantitative easing, so the Bank calls it an addition to its “asset purchase programme”, which was only hiked to £275 billion back in October. The accompanying rhetoric states that inflation is on the way back down and may fall below their target of 2%, mainly as a result of the VAT increase last January falling out of the equation and lower energy prices, (despite Brent crude being over 10% higher Y-o-Y in sterling terms..); a convenient excuse perhaps.



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Schaeuble Blesses Gaspar: German FinMin Promises To Rescue Portugal

UPDATE: Ironic timing (via Bloomberg)...*VENIZELOS SAYS GREECE FACES CHOICE OF STAYING IN EURO OR NOT,  *GREEK DEBT SUSTAINABILITY NO WAY NEAR 120%, DE JAGER SAYS, and *ECB SHOULD CONTRIBUTE TO REDUCTION OF GREEK DEBT, JUNCKER SAYS

In an incredibly candid 'informal' discussion caught on video by Portugal's TVi24 television crew, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble gives Portuguese finance minister Vitor Gaspar 'the nod' that after the Greek deal is done, Germany will relax the conditions of the financial assistance program for Portugal. While the soundtrack is a little flaky, it is clear that the German finmin notes they must remain resolute in their conditions against Greece in order to maintain the appearance of 'seriousness' with the fellow members of the Greek parliament and more importantly the people of Germany. It would appear that once they have flexed their muscles against the Greeks (think Lehman?) then (and only then) can (and will) they 'help' the Portuguese. Perhaps the hard default is the way they expect this to play out with the assumption they can post-hoc avoid contagion in some manner but nevertheless, Samaras' comments this afternoon on growth and a focus away from austerity do not sit in any way complementary to Schaeuble's comments in this candid-camera moment.

Portuguese TV is having a field day with the clip as they note: Vítor Gaspar was "looking like a student trying to impress the teacher," was how the commentator saw the episode. Adding, the minister "did everything but say that not only is doing everything right as even very fond of the austerity policy."



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CME Cuts Gold, Silver, Platinum And Copper Margins

It has been so long since the CME cut gold and silver margins that frankly we are a little bit stunned... In an extended announcement, which saw outright margins for virtually every commodity get cut, the CME just lowered Initial and Maintenance margins of gold (by 12%) and silver (13%), to $7500 maintenance for GC and $16000 maintenance for SI. Did the paper bull trap season just open? And how long before these are re-hiked by 15%, 20% or more? For now, however, this is certainly near-term bullish.



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Is It The Weather, Stupid? David Rosenberg On What "April In January" Means For Seasonal Adjustments

Remember last year when the tiniest snowfall was reason for everyone and their grandmother to miss every possible estimate, always blaming it on the weather? Or rainfall in the spring? Or warm weather during the summer? Oddly enough one never hears about the opposite: the beneficial, and one-time, impact to trendline due to countertrend weather, such as the fact that we just had April weather in January. Granted, nobody in the programmed MSM will touch this topic, which is why we go to the most trustworthy filter of real economic data - David Rosenberg. "...Be careful in assessing the seasonally adjusted data when January weather feels like April. It was four to five degrees warmer than usual and the third fewest snowflakes to hit the ground in the past 50 years. On top of that, let's not lose sight of what real GDP did in Q4 — considerably below consensus view from last summer and sub-1% at an annual rate once inventories are stripped out. The only variable preventing real GDP from stagnating completely was the fact the price deflator collapsed to just 0.4% at an annual rate. If it had averaged to what it was in the previous three quarters, real GDP growth would have come in close to a 0.7% annual rate. Strip out the inventory build-up and real sales would have contracted at a 1.3% annual rate and recession would be dripping off everybody's tongue right now."



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Calm Before The Storm? Credit Plunges As VIX Futures Jump Most In 2 Months

Credit markets are continuing the trend of the last couple of days with this afternoon seeing their underperformance accelerating. Major underperformance this week in investment grade and high yield credit markets relative to stocks (and as we noted this morning, we are also seeing financial credit in Europe notably underperforming) as Maiden Lane II assets are sold and high yield issuance peaks (and liquidity dries up). Adding to the concerns, VIX futures saw their biggest 2-day jump in over two months despite equity's modest rally. On a day when Pisani tells us there was much to rejoice about, stocks managed only negligible gains (even with broad risk assets in risk-on mode, TSY yields up, FX carry up, Oil up) and while stocks are limping higher now (aside from AAPL of course) with financials underperforming, perhaps this week of notably higher average trade size in equity futures is the calm before the real storm gets going - as credit and vol seems to be hinting at.



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A Very Different Take On The "Iran Barters Gold For Food" Story

Much has been made of today's Reuters story how "Iran turns to barter for food as sanctions cripple imports" in which we learn that "Iran is turning to barter - offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil - in return for food", and whose purpose no doubt is to demonstrate just how crippled the Iranian economy is as a result of the ongoing US embargo. Incidentally this story is 100% the opposite of the Debka-spun groundless disinformation from a few weeks ago that India was preparing to pay for Iran's oil in gold (they got the asset right, but the flow of funds direction hopelessly wrong). While there is certainly truth to the fact that the US is actively seeking to destabilize the local government, we wonder why? After all as the opportunity cost for the existing regime to do something drastic gets ever lower as the popular resentment rises, leaving the local administration with few options but to engage either the US or Israel. Unless of course, this is the ultimate goal. Yet going back to the Reuters story, it would be quite dramatic, if only it was not the case that Iran has been laying the groundwork for a barter economy for many months now, something which various other analysts perceive as the basis for the destruction of the petrodollar system. Perhaps regular readers will recall that back in July, we wrote an article titled "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System." Specifically, we wrote that "according to the FT, China has decided to commence a barter system in which Iranian oil is exchanged directly for Chinese exports. The net result: not only a slap for the US Dollar, but implicitly for all fiat intermediaries, as Iran and China are about to prove that when it comes to exchanging hard resources for critical Chinese goods and services, the world's so called reserve currency is completely irrelevant." Seen in this light the fact that Iran is actually proceeding with a barter system, something that had been in the works for quite a while, actually puts the Reuters story in a totally different light: instead of one predicting the imminent demise of the Iranian economy, the conclusion is inverted, and underscores the culmination of what may have been an extended barter preparation period, has finally gone from beta to (pardon the pun) gold, and Iran is now successfully engaging in global trade without the use of the historical reserve currency.



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Is The Foreclosure Settlement A Shadow Bailout For Broke California

Just over a week ago we highlighted the desperate plight of cash-strapped California. With a $3.3bn short-term 'hole', they were looking for cash-management solutions under every rock and hard place they could find. Today we hear that California joins the Obama bank foreclosure settlement enabling $18bn of bank-funded cash (implicitly via Federal Reserve/Government coffers) can flow to the left coast. Los Angeles alone will receive $4bn which while eventually wending its way down to the consumer (to be spent and implicitly spurring further economic activity or perhaps more likely to pay down other debt in this balance sheet recessionary environment), as Bloomberg asks, "Why should a taxpayer in Houston or Wichita bail out irresponsible California homeowners, banks and the state’s public employees’ retirement fund?" To add to California's 'aid', BofA has become the first bank to sign up for the 'Keep your Home' program where Federal dollars are given to banks to encourage them to reduce mortgage balances on struggling (over-levered and perhaps once greedy) California homeowners. Certainly it is a happy coincidence that perhaps a short-term cash crisis could be band-aided in the Golden State by this well-timed joining of California to the settlement.



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Guest Post: Self-Interest And The Pathology Of Power: The Corruption Of America Part 2

The Power Elites' time-honored strategy to protect their own wealth and grip on power has three components: one is to pursue a strategy of pervasive, ceaseless propaganda to persuade the productive classes that the system is sound, fair and working for them; the second is to fund diversionary "bread and circuses" for the potentially troublesome lower classes, and the third is to harden the fiefdoms of power and wealth into an aristocracy that is impervious to the protests of debt-serfs and laborers below. In addition to "the system is working for you" social control myth, the wealth/power aristocracy also invokes various fear-based social control myths: external enemies are threatening us all, so ignore your debt-serfdom and powerlessness, etc. In the ideal Power Elite scenario, a theocracy combines faith and State: not only is it illegal to resist the Aristocracy, you will suffer eternal damnation for even thinking about it. Ask yourself this: how much influence do you as a citizen, voter and taxpayer have over the Federal Reserve? If we're honest, we must confess that the Federal Reserve is as remote to us as any branch of the North Korean government: we have zero influence over it, and the same can be said of our elected representatives. This is the definition of an aristocracy, oligarchy (a power structure in which power is held by a small number of people), kleptocracy, etc.



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Is A Greek Uncontrollable Default Inevitable?

It seems our discussions on sovereign litigation 'arbitrage' and blocking stakes among foreign-law Greek bondholders is gathering some consensus among the smarter sell-side research shops. In a note today, recognizing the differences between Greek international-law bonds, Credit Suisse applies their rigorous game theory perspective to the EUR18bn of foreign-law bond holders and the implications on the PSI negotiations. As we have pointed out, and has been successfully traded in  the last few weeks, they expect foreign-law bonds to trade at a premium to Greek-law government bonds (just as we also noted we see increasingly in Portuguese bond dispersion) not just for blocking stake possibilities but also as better hedge-protected CDS positions. CS points out that if CACs were introduced into Greek law bonds, this blocking stake in foreign-law bonds will create a much higher chance of a hard default credit event and while UK law bonds won't be protected from a hard default they will at least have CDS trigger protection. Finally, the hope of creating a true Prisoner's Dilemma (where standing alone/holding-out singularly is a sub-optimal strategy) fails dismally as each participant is aware that others (blocking stake foreign-law bond holders) will for sure not participate. Adding to this threat is the current low stress environment, set up by the ECB and its LTRO, which could encourage more 'aggressive' behavior by any player in the game creating higher chances of a hard default by Greece as Troika-deal confidence increases the bargaining power for heavier haircuts and thus - fewer willing participants. What a mess!



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