A well-known bond expert just blasted the following summary of today's "market positive" and supposedly just completed ECB bond swap: "THE EQUITY MARKETS MAY RALLY ON THIS NEWS BECAUSE THEY ARE FOCUSED ON A DEAL GETTING DONE BUT ANYONE IN FIXED INCOME SHOULD NOW CONSIDER RETCHING UNDER THEIR DESKS AS WE ALL JUST TOOK ONE OF THE BIGGEST SCREWINGS OF OUR LIVES THAT MAY WELL NOT BE A SINGULAR EVENT."
It is no secret to those who follow the daily nuances of global monetary policy that the primary reason for Europe's deplorable fate has little to do with liquidity, and everything to do with an ever diminishing base of money-good assets, which in turn is a solvency problem when run through the cash flow statement and balance sheet. Need an explanation for the ever declining collateral thresholds by the ECB? There it is: assets in Europe are generating ever lower returns, which means that an ever lower inverse LTV has to be applied to them by monetary authorities in order for the asset holder to get some return. And with trillions in incremental cash needs, before all is said and done, the ECB (and various regional central banks, as was discussed last week), will be forced to accept virtually anything that is not nailed down as collateral for 100 cents on par (not amortized) value. Yet while observing the symptom is simple, the diagnosis is much more difficult. In other words, why is Europe's asset base getting progressively worse. Courtesy of Goldman we may have found the answer. As the following chart shows, the average age of assets in years in Europe, has just hit a record high. The implications of this are substantial, and explain so very much about the core problem at the heart of the European quandary.
Yesterday, it was Thomas Stolper who capitulated on his latest incursion into the field of 0.000 batting, when he closed his long EURUSD reco (only for the EUR to jump today of course). We can hardly wait for him to announce he is again long the EURUSD for the clearest EUR short signal possible. That said, it still left outstanding the Goldman Russell 2000 recommendation noted here previously. Sure enough, in the aftermath of yesterday's return of risk with a vengeance, Goldman is taking steps to make sure it locks in at least some profits on its RUT 2000 target of 860 by hiking the stop to 810 from 765. The reason? "What has clearly changed in the past week -- and the catalyst for this "leash tightening" -- is that European sovereign risks have reemerged, with continued near-term support for Greece now much more uncertain than we or the markets had previously assumed. With the amplification of these hard-to-assess risks emanating from Europe, and data continuing to support our main thesis, we think that protecting the gains at this point with relatively tight stop is prudent" But why if Europe is suddenly fixed, on the completely meaningless news that the ECB is funding Eurozone central banks with magic money on their Greek bond losses, even as the actual debt notional is not changing at all. At this point, we doubt we are the only one who no longer care.
A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To NegativeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/15/2012 20:58 -0400
For a while now we have said that the very weakest link in Europe is not the banks, not the ECB, not triggered CDS, and not even the shadow banking system (well, infinitely rehypothecated Greek bonds within a daisychain of broker-dealers, which ultimately ends up at the ECB at a negligible repo discount, that could well be the weakest link - we will have more to say about this over the weekend) but two very specific insurers: Italy's mega insurer Assecurazioni Generali, which at last check had more Greek bonds as a % of TSF than anyone else, and Europe's biggest insurer and Pimco parent, Allianz, which is filled to the gills with pretty much everything (for more on Generali, or as we like to call it by its CDS ticker ASSGEN read here, here, here, and here). Well, Moody's just gave them, and the entire European space, the evil eye, and soon the layering of margin calls upon margin calls, especially if and when Greece defaults and a third of ASSGEN's balance sheet is found to be insolvent, will make anyone who still is long CDS those two names rich. Assuming of course the Fed steps in and bails out the counterparty the CDS was purchased from.
What is better than a one-front European war on insolvency? Why two-fronts of course. But not before many "soothing" words are uttered (no really). From Reuters: "Portugal's international lenders arrived in Lisbon on Wednesday to review the country's bailout, with soothing words of support likely to dominate as Europe gropes for success stories to counteract its interminable Greek headache. As the euro zone's second weakest link, Portugal's ability to ride out its debt crisis will be key to Europe's claim that Greece is a unique case. Despite a groundswell of concerns that Portugal - like Greece - may eventually have to restructure its aid programme, the third inspection of Lisbon's economic performance in the context of its ongoing 78-billion-euro rescue should make that contention clear. "The review will be all about peace and harmony," said Filipe Garcia, head of Informacao de Mercados Financeiros consultants. "The important thing for Europe is to isolate Portugal from Greece, to put it out of Greece's way in case of a default or even an exit from the euro." That makes sense - after all even Venizelos just told Greece that the country is not Italy. And if that fails, the Don of bailouts, Dr Strangeschauble will just give the country will blessing to use a few billion in cash. Oh but wait. It can't. Because as as we pointed out in late January, and as the market has so conveniently chosen to forget, Portugal, unlike Greece, has simple, clean and efficient negative pledge language in its non-local law bonds. Which means "no can do" to any additional bailouts under its current capitalization. Which may very well mean that Portugal is stuck with its existing balance sheet unless the country succeeds in doing an exchange offer which takes out all UK- and other strong-protection bonds. All of them. And as Greece has shown, that is just not going to happen.
While the government propaganda machine chugs along and tells us to move along, there is nothing to see in the plunging labor participation rate, it is just 50 year olds pulling a Greek and retiring (fully intent on milking those 0.001% interest checking accounts, CDs and 3 Year Treasury Bonds for all they are worth - they are after all called fixed "income" not "outcome") there is more than meets the eye here. Yet while we will happily debunk any and all stupidity that Americans actually have the wherewithal to retire in droves as we are meant to believe (with the oldest labor segment's participation rate surging to multi-decade highs), there is a distinct subset of the population that migrates from being a 99-week'er to moving to merely yet another government trough - disability. Art Cashin explains.
European Recession Deepens As German Industrial Output Slides More Than Greek, Despite Favorable ZEWSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/14/2012 08:46 -0400
Earlier today we got another indication that Europe's recession will hardly be a "technical" or "transitory" or whatever it is that local spin doctors call it, after the European December Industrial Output declined by 1.1% led by a whopping 2.7% drop by European growth dynamo Germany, which slid by 2.7% compared to November (which in turn was a 0.3% decline). This was worse than the Greek number which saw a 2.4% drop, however starting at zero somewhat limits one's downside. Yet even as the German economic decline accelerated, German ZEW investor expectations, which just like all of America's own consumer "CONfidence" metrics are driven primarily off the stock market, which in turn is a function of investor myopia to focus only on nominal numbers and not purchasing power loss - a fact well known to central bankers everywhere - do not indicate much if anything about the economy, and all about how people view the DAX stock index, which courtesy of the ECB's massive balance sheet expansion, has been going up. And if there has been any light at all in an otherwise dreary European tunnel, it has been the dropping EURUSD, which however has since resumed climbing, and with it making German industrial exports once again problematic. Which in turn brings us back to the primary these of this whole charade: that Germany needs controlled chaos to keep the EURUSD low - the last thing Merkel needs is a fixed Europe. It is surprising how few comprehend this.
Stocks advanced today after Greek lawmakers finally approved a new austerity package aimed at averting a default. As a result, it now looks like that the country will get the next bailout tranche and avoid failing to meet debt redemptions in March. The draft legislation published by the Greek government showed that the EFSF may provide EUR 35bln to help Greece buy back bonds held by euro-area central banks as collateral, while Greek finance minister said that EUR 70bln in bonds are to be issued in the swap and Greece needs to make debt swap offer by Friday Feb 17th at the latest. Credit metrics such as Euribor and Euribor/OIS spreads continued to improve, which in turn supported financial sector. Looking elsewhere, comments from Iranian President Ahmadinejad over the weekend who said that Iran will soon reveal "very big new achievements" in its controversial nuclear programme, together with comments from China’s Wen who said the country will begin to fine tune its economic policies in the Q1 of this year supported both Brent and WTI crude prices today. Going forward, there are no major macro-economic releases this afternoon, but both the BoE and the Fed are due to conduct another round of Asset Purchases.
Is a bonus culture beneficial to the economy?
The rhetoric coming out of Greece has reached a fever pitch. Papademos and Samaras are both out their creating dire images of a post apocalyptic Greek state if a default occurs. Maybe it is a good time to remember what Papademos’ job is. He wasn’t elected. He doesn’t represent the Greek people in a fashion that we are used to – running for election and winning the election. He was foisted on the Greek people by the EU – the very people he is going through the motions of negotiating with. His JOB was to get the Greeks to accept what the EU wants. If he isn’t the most conflicted politician of all time, he is right up there. Samaras may believe it, or may have decided this is his best route to power when the vote is passed and the Greek people decide to kick Papademos out (remember, he was never voted in). Either of them would be more credible if they made any attempt to explain why it would be so disastrous. So far, not one basic fact to support the chaos theory has been given. I will admit that if Greece defaults without any preparation, it would be extremely ugly, but there is no reason not to be prepared. So, if I was the Greek Finance Minister (I would probably have a longer last name, with more vowels) here is an outline of how I would prepare for default.
The Epic Farce Continues - US Attorneys General "Robosigned" A Foreclosure Settlement Which Does Not ExistSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/10/2012 16:03 -0400
It is only appropriate, and so ironic, that a politically motivated settlement whose purpose is to squash any claims of pervasive defective document fraud (and contract law but just ask GM bondholders about that - it's hardly news) is itself found to be... defective. American Banker reports that the reason why the terms of the so-called historic (just ask the Teleprompter in Chief) foreclosure settlement deal are not public yet, is "because a fully authorized, legally binding deal has not been inked yet." Wait, so America's cohort of AGs just all, pardon the pun, robosigned a piece of paper that does not exist? What next: there is a different Linda Green signature on every page of this yet to be produced document making a complete mockery of the rule of law?
Just over three years ago, Zero Hedge first pointed out some dramatically meaningless inconsistencies in one of the world's most important numbers (which also happens to be "self-reported" and without any checks and balances) - the London Interbank Offered Rate, better known as LIBOR, which is the reference rate of a rather large market. Following that, we made a stronger case that the Libor, should really be abbreviated to LiEbor in "On the Uselessness of Libor" from June 2009, which alleged that this number is essentially manipulated, potentially with malicious intent. That alone got us a very unhappy retort from the British Banker Association (BBA) which is the banker-owned entity set to "determine" what the daily Libor fixing is based on how banks themselves tell us their liquidity conditions are. Well, as has been getting more and more obvious over the past two years, our allegations were 100% correct, and have now manifested in a series of articles digging through the dirt, manipulation and outright crime behind this completely fabricated number. And yet this should be the most aggravated offence in the capital markets, because LIBOR just so happens is the primary driver in determining implicit risk as a reference rate for $350 trillion worth of financial products. That's right - that one little number, now thoroughly discredited, has downtstream effects on $350,000,000,000,000.00 worth of notional assets. That's a lot. And while we are confident that nobody will ever go to prison for LIBOR fraud, which has explicitly been leading investors and speculators alike to believe that risk is far lower than where it truly is, what one should ask if the LIBOR rate is manipulated, and with is the entire floating and interest rate derivative market, not to mention CDS which are also driven off a Libor benchmark, what is there to say about the minuscule in comparison global equity market? In other words, does anyone honestly think that with the entire fixed income market pushed around by individuals with ulterior motives, that stocks are ... safe for manipulation?
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.
Irish Finance Minister saying that whatever the ECB does with Greece would be of interest to Ireland. So if ECB forgives Greek debt (directly or through EFSF), Ireland is going to want the same deal. Portugal won't be far behind. And why stop at ECB and not go for PSI as well?
The last time the Fed tried to dump Maiden Lane 2 assets via a public auction in a BWIC manner, it nearly crashed the credit market. This time, the FRBNY, headed by one ex-Goldman Sachs alum Bill Dudley, has decided to go back to its shady, opaque ways, and transact in private, with no clear indication of the actual bidding process or transaction terms, and sell $6.2 billion in Maiden Lane 2 "assets" to, wait for it, Goldman Sachs, the same firm that would benefit in the first place if AIG's assets imploded (remember all those CDS it held on AIG which supposedly prevented it from losing money if AIG went bankrupt?). One wonders: does Goldman have a put option on the ML2 portfolio if the market experiences a sudden and totally impossible downtick some day? But all is well - we have assurance from the Fed that the sale happened in a "competitive process." Luckily, that takes care of any appearance of impropriety.