So much for the US decoupling. Following 5 days of persistent refusals to deal with reality, the real world finally came back with a bang, and while the overall market tumbled the most in two months, it is really financial stocks that took the brunt of today's beating. As the chart below shows, the XLF has literally collapsed with most major banks on the ropes, and the broker dealer index down 6.45% the most since August 10. The reason? Italy of course, and the fear that once the country is forced to write down its debt, the bank failures will proceed in waves: first Italian banks, then French, and then everyone else, especially those that have already been in the market's crosshairs for their exposure. And if today was ugly, tomorrow promises to be an absolute bloodbath with Italy deciding to proceed with the issuance of €5 billion in 1 year Bills into what may well be a bidless market.
Earlier we asked some simple questions regarding BlackRock's sovereign debt exposure. Multi-trillion asset manager BlackRock responds:
- BLACKROCK RESPONDS TO QUESTIONS ON ITALIAN DEBT HOLDINGS
- BLACKROCK COMFORTABLE WITH INTERMEDIATE ITALIAN BONDS
- BLACKROCK ENCOURAGED POLICY MAKERS ADDRESSING CHALLENGES
- BLACKROCK CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER RIEDER COMMENTS IN A NOTE
Hopefully this response will satisfy the market and make it comfortable with BlackRock as an intermediate-term going concern. Then again clarifications such as this one by other Blackrock professionals, namely that the market is wrong, probably will not help:
- BLACKROCK'S ROVELLI: ITALY SPREADS DON'T REFLECT FUNDAMENTALS
So, what happens if the spreads do reflect fundamentals? Will Blackrock apply Mark to Market to its Italian holdings? And perhaps BLK can follow in Jefferies' footsteps and be so kind to break down it gross and net exposure for all to see? After all, there is nothing to hide among its "nominal exposures."
We are sure we will hear a lot more about leverage ratios for banks in the coming days. Some of it will be correct and some of it will be wrong. If a bank issued 100 million of equity and then went and used some of that money to buy 1 billion of old 10 year bunds versus shorting 1 billion of new 10 year bunds, what would be the leverage ratio? The accounting answer seems to be 20, though some say it is 10. So being long a bond and short a very similar bond has more leverage than being just long a bond? In other cases leverage will be massively understated. It does seem sad that the way financial institutions report their numbers are generally opaque and not consistent - even something like DVA seemed to be treated very differently at each and every institution.
4 statements later, countless promises, several Leucadia triple-downs, and one 2-page CUSIP statement later and... Jefferies is down 9.2%. Perhaps the market was not all that convinced that "Jefferies is fine" after all. Our spidey sense is tingling that yet another statement by Jefferies is imminent. Also, it may be time for Jefferies to bite the bullet and unload the other half of its sovereign flow book: that sure will teach the market to doubt management's good intentions. And never mind the spread on liquidation firesales: after all who cares about EPS on a day like today.
As a reminder in 20 minutes we will have the first ever Nationwide Emergency Alert System Test. Just in case, you know, the internet fails and various websites can not be accessed after the test...
For once, Fitch took the words right out of our mouth, and in the process reminded us that the time of the stupendously named ASSGEN CDS (357 bps, +41 today) is here (for our previous coverage on Generali, read here, here and here). And just because we like to live dangerously, we believe the time has come to knock on the door of the grand daddy of all: Pimco parent, German uber-insurer Allianz, where the crisis will eventually hit like a ton of anvils if and when things really get out of control. ALZ CDS + 12 at 136. Going much wider. After all, recall that the deus ex machina of the EFSF as a CDO Cubed came from, that's right, Allianz. So now that it has failed, guess who has the most to lose... If we had more time we would attach the recent Credit Sights piece on ALZ here, but we don't: we hope readers can track it down on their own.
If anyone needed the proper epitaph for the insane stupidity out of Europe, Reuters may have just provided it. In an exclusive article, Reuters stuns us with the following: "German and French officials have discussed plans for a radical overhaul of the European Union that would involve establishing a more integrated and potentially smaller euro zone, EU sources say. French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave some flavour of his thinking during an address to students in the eastern French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, when he said a two-speed Europe -- the euro zone moving ahead more rapidly than all 27 countries in the EU -- was the only model for the future." It gets much worse: "The discussions among senior policymakers in Paris, Berlin and Brussels go further, raising the possibility of one or more countries leaving the euro zone, while the remaining core pushes on towards deeper economic integration, including on tax and fiscal policy." Not sure how to further clarify this: Europe is preparing for its own end, and the dissolution of the existing structure of the Eurozone, which likely means an end to the EU in its current format, a reshaping of the customs union, and the overhaul of the zEURq.PK in its current form. Ironically, this may end up being favorable for the Euro... and detrimental for Germany. So the question is: will Germany go for it? At this point, it probably has no choice, unless it wants a mutiny on its hands.
You really can't make this up
I know it's tough to think about anything but the fast-melting ice cream cone that is Europe, but there are some things you should know about China. All the reassurances you've been reading about China's "soft landing" and its "they know what they're doing" central government are probably false. Here's why: very little in China is as it seems on the surface, or as it's presented to the Big Noses (Westerners)... The only sources who actually know what's going on in China are in local government. Another fantasy Westerners lap up is that the central government actually knows what's going on, and even more laughable, knows how to "fix" everything. If you don't even know what's happening, how can you fix the problem? Westerners also don't understand "corruption." They think in terms of bribes that could be suppressed by some new rules. That is beyond laughable, for corruption isn't bribes, it's the warp and woof of how things work in China. They don't understand that pirated goods are crushed by bulldozers for a show of face; nothing changes behind the facade presented for show. There is a lot of anger and resentment in China, especially among young people. This will not go away because some new railway is built, or a new mall opens.
The last month has been a violent one for stock and bond investors but a look at the forward curve for Crude Oil also tells a story of hugely volatile moves. Oil has shifted from contango to backwardation in the last month but it is today's dramatically disconnected move that has many scratching their heads. As we approached the European close today, oil started to rally and rally fast. Initial rumors of ECB printing were quickly dismissed as gold and silver slid back but crude kept going - all on its own. After being perfectly in sync with BTPs for the last few days, we wonder if traders were short oil as their hedge against European long risk exposures and the LCH margin call forced liquidations and unwinds - idiosyncratically cracking the oil market back over $97.50.