The ballot box and economics textbook are on a collision course around the world, and we thought Nic Colas' (of ConvergEx) analysis of what behavioral economists call The Ultimatum Game was worth a refresher. That’s where two strangers divide a fixed sum of money, with one person proposing a split and the other accepting or rejecting it. It’s a one-shot deal, so the proposer tries to work out the minimum amount required to get the other person to go along. Classical economics says that a $1 proposal out of a $100 pot should work, but in real life (and this study has been done everywhere from the rainforests of South America to the bars of Pittsburgh) it takes 25-50% offers to win the day. Nic found three recent updates to the Ultimatum Game that each speak directly to the current political state of play in Europe and the United States. One shows that proud people (or those led by nationalist-minded politicians, perhaps) need higher offers in order to accept a split. The second shows that the Game works even for small amounts. The last – and the first such study we've ever seen from a mainland Chinese university – shows that worries over social status complicate the already difficult mental calculus of "How much is enough?" Classical economics would say – and you will hear a lot of policymakers echo – that the Greeks should take whatever deal they can. Something is better than nothing. However, all the lessons of the Ultimatum Game studies point to an entirely different conclusion.
Back in late March, we pointed out - much to the chagrin of the LTRO-funded Spanish-sovereign-debt-stuffing banks of the tapas-nation - that, in a similarly misleading manner to Greece's 'leverage' the debt-to-GDP data for Spain was significantly higher than official estimates. Once sovereign guarantees, contingent liabilities and their responsibilities to the EU and the ECB were included things got a whole lot uglier. Now, slowly but surely, as reported by Reuters this evening, some of these bilateral guarantees/loans are coming to light. Instead of the expected EUR8 billion of 'regional refinancing' expected for 2012, it turns out there is EUR36 billion and as Reuters notes "the difference is due to bilateral loans from Spanish banks to the regions worth 28 billion euros that were not made public previously" adding that "It could unnerve further investors concerned by the capacity of Spain to curb its public finances and reform its banking sector." Critically this stunning 'discovery' should be worrisome since the plan, given the regions are virtually blocked from public market financing - due to the high cost of funds, was/is for the sovereign to guarantee (there's that word again) their issuance explicitly. Ironically, as de Guindos and Hollande are chummy borrow-and-spendaholic growth-seekers versus Merkel's safe-and-austere determination, so now the Spanish authorities must lend exuberantly to their regions while at the same time demanding deficit targets are met (or else?) - or as one Reuters' source objects: "You can't tell them on one side that they have to be austere and on the other side give them unlimited liquidity". Irony indeed.
Maybe the real reason that the Treasury offered China direct access (thus cutting out the middleman and offering China cheaper access than ever) was precisely because China was selling, and because the Treasury was concerned about the effect on rates, and wanted to give China some incentive to keep buying. As Jon Huntsman noted in a 2010 cable leaked by Wikileaks, the PBOC has felt pressured to keep buying, and as various PBOC officials have hinted in recent months, China is actively seeking to convert out of treasuries and into gold. And that makes sense — treasuries are yielding ever deeper negative real rates. People holding treasuries are losing their purchasing power. No wonder the treasury is willing to cut Wall Street out of the deal. And it isn’t like the Treasury would have taken this move lightly — cutting Wall Street out of the equation is a slap in the face to Wall Street
The Chinese Schrodinger conundrum, in which two different distinct PMI indicators continue to paint opposite pictures of the economy, as explained first here, continues. Moments ago, the HSBC Flash PMI posted a decline from 49.3 in April to 48.7. This is the 7th consecutive month in which the economy is in a contraction according to HSBC, and 10th of the last 11. Needless to say, this is only half of the story, and we expect that the official Chinese PMI index will post another increase well into expansionary territory as the random number generator known as China_Economy.xls spews fresh gibberish every time F9 is hit. In the meantime, the spin has already begun, worse is better, and futures are higher simply because the expectation is that another perfectly futile RRR hike (which does virtually nothing for real cash circulating in the economy) will follow suit. Of course, if the number had come in over 50, the spin would be that China's economy has entered into a virtuous loop as goalseeking the narrative to comply with the central planners' market intervention continues.
Did France, Italy and Greece think they are the only ones who can float strawmen in the media? No. Once again, Germany shows us how it is done. From Tomorrow's edition of Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachricthen: "The Greece-exit is a done deal: According to the German economic news from financial circles EU and the ECB have abandoned the motherland of democracy as a euro member. The reason is, interestingly, not in the upcoming elections - these are basically become irrelevant. The EU has finally realized that the Greeks have not met any agreements and will not continue not to meet them. A banker: "We helped with the Toika. The help of the troika was tied to conditions. Greece has fulfilled none of the conditions, and has been for months now." So more posturing? Or is Germany truly just so sick and tired of bailing out not just Greece (which pockets between 0% and 20% of any actual bailout cash), and indirectly French banks which as of this moment are the biggest pass thru beneficiaries, and of course the ECB with its tens of billions in old par GGB holdings, that this article is, gasp, founded in reality? Is Europe approaching its own Lehman moment when everyone says "just screw it", and let the dice fall where they may? Many said Lehman could never be allowed to fail. They were wrong. Just as many are saying that Europe will never let Greece leave as the costs to the continent are just too great. Well, judging by tonight's epic fiasco of a Euro-summit, the last thing we would attribute to Europe's leaders is clear and rational thought.
Update: Conference over. Mentions of Deposit Guarantees? Zero. Is the market run by idiot algos? Yes, next question.
Wondering if Germany did indeed cede to demands for an international deposit guarantee system (of the Eurosystem's $11 trillion in deposits), or if it was all merely a bad dream concocted by several rumormongers who took advantage of stupid algo-matics to ramp stocks 1.5% on absolutely nothing? Then watch the below live press conference from the European Council, starring Gollum, which will make everything clear, and once again confirm why the Einhorn representation of Europe's only strategy is still alive and well.
In the Garden of Eden there is no scarcity. Food, clothing, and shelter in are abundance. Resources merely fall from the heavens upon command. It is economic paradise precisely because economics does not exist. The universal laws that hold in the world of scarce goods vanquish in the land of the plenty. The vision of Eden is the politician’s main source of employment. That is, promising to lead the suffering masses toward utopia by government decree makes for great electoral results. The voting fodder ignorant of economics falls in line to cast a ballot to grant themselves other people’s money. But of course many voters don’t see it this way. Their vision of the state is that of Eden. They see the bureaucrats and enforcers capable of tapping an infinite pot of wealth to pass along prosperity to those subservient enough to put them in office. This in turn has lead to the establishment of the welfare state and its plethora of entitlement programs. For those who see the modern day welfare state as corrosive to the productive capacity of any given country, no where is this theory more evident than the scheme of unemployment insurance.
Now that talk of NEW QE is once again all the rage, and with the FOMC's June meeting in less than a month, and since there is nothing that anyone can do, short of a revolution to prevent this (with half the country obese, and the other half hypnotized by the Kardashians or on disability, that ain't happening), it only makes sense to join them since we can't beat them. Which is why we are officially launching the "POMO For The Rest Of Us" initiative. Beginning today, we will collate readers' ideas based on twitter posts with the #POMOList hashtag, which we naturally suggest be addressed to the @FederalReserve twitter account as we wouldn't want the good central planners at the Fed to be unaware of what the general population demands be monetized in the next imminent iteration of an utterly idiotic activity which does absolutely the same as every year before, while hoping for a different result.
For those who feel like spreading rumors about European deposit insurance, please do. But at least have some sense about what it would entail. European banks already have the highest loan-to-deposit loan-to-deposit ratio in the world. This means they are massively more levered, roughly 3x more, the US banks. In other words, deposit "encumbrance" is already absolutely maxed out. Think the ECB can credibly backstop Europe's €11 trillion deposit market, with Germany's agreement? Good luck.
Equities and broad risk-assets were generally in sync today until around 1430ET when between rumors of a Euro-wide deposit-guarantee 'scheme' - which we had already dismissed as impossible short-term, very unlikely medium-term, and not a long-term solution to redenomination/insolvency risk - and Kocherlakota's hints as NEW QE if the fiscal cliff arrives - US equity markets took off (as did Gold). S&P 500 e-mini futures (ES) pushed to more than 12pts rich to CONTEXT (our proxy for risk-assets based on TSYs, FX carry, credit, and commodities) on all that hope - stalling at yesterday's late-day heavy volume swing highs. Of course the high-beta momo monkeys were pounced on and AAPL as well as the major financials all popped notably - breaking above yesterday's closing VWAP. Today was a low average trade size day - the lowest in a week (but a relatively high volume day) - after a large average trade size day yesterday which smells like algos pushing to enable larger selling (especially as we expect a denial any moment from Europe). VIX plunged off its highs but closed only marginally down with ES closing very marginally higher on the day - so some context is required to avoid anchoring bias intraday and while TSY yields did pop and EUR rallied after equities got going, they remain notably divergent from that sur-reality. Gold and Silver surged on the QE/EU hopes as well but remain down 2% and 3% on the week.
In the aftermath of last night's Dell cataclysm, we would like to cheer up any remaining bulls - below we present at least one bullish perspective from the inimitable Whitney Tilson who has a $21-$29 price target (and owned 768K shares of stock). Ignore that the stock is down 20% since the reco, and 33% from recent highs: it takes special skill to discover "pent up value."
We are always on the look-out for low-cost long-vol trades with lots of convexity (large upside, low downside). We think we've found the 'ultimate' black-swan trade. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway bought Burlington Northern and implicitly assumed its debt which caused the company's CDS to collapse (risk to plunge dramatically as one would expect) to extremely low levels of insurance cost of only 15bps (or only $15,000 per year to protect $10,000,000 of debt - while gaining or losing ~$5,000 per bps shift in BNI's risk). However, as risk has picked up in the last week or so, BNI's CDS has risen by 7bps (just under 50%) to 22bps and looks set to go even wider if Buffett's Big Bullish 'Bernanke' Bet doesn't pay off. Buying BNI protection at 22bps seems like the ultimate cheap expression of the "All aboard the 'I wrote billions of naked puts just before 2008 market crash' train" trade.
While hard information is scarce, concerns about deposit flight from Greek banks have increased since the 6 May elections. To the extent that such flight arises from liquidity concerns, the ECB can contain it (or its impact) via its various monetary policy and ELA operations. But, as Goldman Sachs notes in its Focus today, the ECB cannot deal with concerns about bank solvency and/or deposit currency redenomination. That requires a pan-Euro area guarantee of the Euro value of bank deposits by the fiscal authorities. Politically, it will not be domestically popular in Germany (inter alia) to extend such guarantees, however much Germany may benefit from arresting the financial instability deposit runs may cause. And institutionally, in order to contain the threat of free-riding on the guarantee of others, entering into a pan-Euro area deposit guarantee would need to be associated with a deepening of the pan-Euro area system of financial supervision and regulation. This would involve substantial loss of sovereignty relative to the status quo and require significant institutional innovation. However, attractive in principle, even Goldman agrees with our skeptical perspective that it is unlikely that such a guarantee can be implemented credibly in short order. So, what would you do with your hard-earned deposits? Demand them or leave them at the bank on the basis that the EU leaders will do what they promise - this time is different.