For the last several days, I’ve been weaving between northern Italy and Switzerland checking out great places to bank, new places to store gold, and taking in these gorgeous lake views. Every single time I’ve crossed the border, I’ve been met by rather snarly police on both sides; they’re stopping cars, turning people’s trunks inside out, and causing major traffic problems. A friend of mine who came up on the train from Florence to meet me for lunch in Lugano said he was stopped at the border for nearly an hour as thuggish customs agents randomly questioned train passengers and demanded to see their IDs. So much for Europe’s 26-country ‘borderless area.’ Based on Europe’s 1985 Schengen Treaty and 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, you’re supposed to be able to drive from Tallinn, Estonia to Lisbon, Portgual without so much as slowing down at the border. This is not dissimilar from driving between states in the US or provinces in Canada. Yet as Europe descends into greater financial and social chaos, leaders are starting to ignore these agreements which guarantee freedom of movement across the continent.
We are at that moment in time where Greece has capitulated and it is going to be hanging or life imprisonment and Greece, eyes downward cast, is waiting for the verdict. This situation may have been long in coming but it is going to be a disaster for the IMF and for the European Union however it goes. Greece (3) will be a “moment” of that you may be assured and the announcement will be coming shortly. The forthcoming decision will be a matter of credibility in the end as the next line in the sand will hit the ECB, the EU and the IMF in a place that hurts as the last free barrier, the private investors, has been breached and is it going to be the taxpayers of Europe that bear the brunt or is it to be the nation of Greece and her people. There can be no more excuses and the fantastic charades of the past have evaporated and been found wanting. The shepherd ascended Mount Olympus and finding no temples, no gods now is descending back down the mountain and trying hard to figure out just what to say to the people. We are about to face a “Moses Moment” when the worshipping of the “Golden Bull” will no longer cut it. Stand by!
Local Governments Which Entered Into Interest Rate Swaps Got Scalped
Despite this week's largest allotment to the ECB's 7-day tender in over 2 months, ECB collateral changes, a flat LIBOR, and endless game-changing summit conclusions, the market's most accessible source of term USD financing (the EUR-USD basis swap) has collapsed to its worst level in over three months. Even as the sovereign and bank spreads have compressed in the last few days, demand for this short-term financing has soared (i.e. banks are willing to pay quite a penalty for that access). Whether this is a cleaner signal than Lie-bor is unclear </sarc> but for sure between this and the fact that 2Y Swiss rates are reverting lower once again, all is clearly not well in Europe (despite what every talking head tells you) and these remain the two most critical stress indicators for now.
After two days of solid gains, European equities continue the upward trend and are seen higher at the North American crossover, with the Basic Materials sector leading the way, followed by financials. The moves in equities follow overnight reports from Chinese press, once again calling for the PBOC to slash their RRR, as well as expectations that this Thursday both the ECB and the BoE will conduct monetary easing, possibly boosting future commodity demand. In the fixed income markets, the European 2s/30s curve continues to see bear-steepening following last night’s announcement from the Dutch Central Bank that has changed Dutch insurers’ Solvency II interest rate curve; modifying the maturities in which the firms must hold assets towards the longer-end. Today also saw official confirmation from the Irish debt agency that they are to return to capital markets with T-bill issuance on July 5th, their first return to the market since 2010. Investor reaction to this news is evident in the shorter-end of the Irish yield curve, where the 2-yr bond yield spread against their German counterpart is firmly indicating the risk of returning to the market; currently wider by around 20bps.
Some time ago we said that in a world in which virtually every risk and liquidity benchmark is manipulated by either private banks (thank your Liebor) or central banks, if one needs to know the true state of events in Europe, the only real remaining, unmanipulated benchmark remain Swiss nominal bond yields. And at -23.5 bps for the 2 Year it is telling us that nothing is fixed. As usual. Also judging by the SNB's new head Jordan statements which just hit the tape, in which he says that he would not rule out capital controls or negative rates if the crisis worsens, the SNB gets it. Or does it? Jordan also said that the SNB is ready to defend the FX market with unlimited market purchases if necessary. However, as the note below from JPM shows, the SNB may simply be faking it, hoping it too can get away with simple jawboning, instead of actually putting its money where its mouth is. As it turns out the SNB has indeed been intervening in huge size in the month of May to keep the EURCHF peg. The previously undisclosed news is that it has also been sterilizing its purchases. As JPM further notes: "This is highly significant and undermines the credibility of the SNB’s claim that it is willing to do whatever it takes to hold EUR/CHF 1.20. For the floor to be credible the SNB needs to surrender control over the Swiss monetary based, i.e. it has to be willing to deliver both unlimited and unsterilised FX intervention. The intervention in May was certainly unlimited; it most definitely was not unsterilised." How long until the FX vigilantes decide to test just how far the SNB is truly willing to go in defending the peg? And what happens when Swiss nominal yields hit record negative numbers once again?
While Belgian caterers are delighted that Europe's increasingly more unelected leaders quarrel endlessly over who gets to foot the bill to keep the market fooled for one more week that things are fixed, Europe is burning. The just released MarkIt PMI data showed that while Spanish bonds may be up 50 bps one day, down 75 bps the next, "the downturn in the Eurozone manufacturing sector extended to an eleventh successive month. Production and new orders suffered further severe contractions, leading to the steepest job losses since January 2010." And here is where Germany, which as noted earlier, is becoming isolated in its European bailout ambitions, should pay attention: "The rate of decline in Germany was the steepest for three years, and marked a fourth successive monthly decline in the region’s largest economy." This metric is only going to get worse, only in the future it will be coupled with increasingly more direct and contingent debt all around. And further confirming that there is no easy way out for Europe was the May Eurozone unemployment number which at 11.1% rose to a new record
From what seemed like a very low bar on expectations, last week's summit headlines surprised modestly on the upside, even if the details remain far from clear - and implementation even murkier. Political talk of wanting to break the link between sovereign and banking risk was well-received by markets - but we remind all that talk-is-cheap with these Euro-pols. As Goldman noted this weekend, "we do not see the outcome as a game changer", rather can-kicking until one of four possible endgames are realized. The absence of any explicit commitment to plans for fiscal or political integration; the lack of reference to any pan-European deposit insurance; and Ms. Merkel's limited concessions (to ensure passage of the growth compact) to the terms on which the existing pool of EFSF/ESM resources are offered leaves the underlying issue - the terms on which mutualisation of financial risk is offered by Germany in return for mutualization of control over fiscal decisions throughout the Euro area - remaining inharmonious. German tactical concessions at the summit do not change their basic position on this issue: that discipline, reform and consolidation must be achieved and cemented first before mutualization of financial obligations is possible. Looking to the future Goldman sees four paths for the Euro are from here - and short-term too many crucial issues are left unresolved.
Even as Spain, Italy and soon France are scrambling to break the link between sovereigns and banks, an unpopular move that until recently Germany was very much against as it permitted the culture of endless unsupervised bank bailouts on taxpayer dimes to continue, we get a fresh reminder of why any unconditional aid, entitlement, or backstop guarantees funded by "other people's money" is always inevitably a bad idea. Case in point: Spain, which just said that its economy will contract in Q2 even more than in Q1. This reminds us why any claims of "austerity" are a total mockery: only Keynesian priests seem unable to grasp that countries gain much more upside from pushing their economies to the brink only to be bailed out, than from engaging in real economic viability and sustainability programs: i.e., living within your means (something we proved empirically before). Finally, this is also a stark reminder that when one removes out all the bailout noise and the daily high-beta gyrations of sovereign debt, the real reason why sovereign bondholders should be buying Spanish debt - an actual improvement in its economy- continues to not only be absent, but by the very nature of endless now-monthly bailouts, becomes impossible as debt never fixed more debt.
It's official: all those rumors of unprecedented deposit withdrawals in May as Greece was heading into one then another parliamentary election were true. According to just released NBG data, May deposit outflows were €8.5 billion, or the highest on record, bringing the local banks' total private sector deposit base to just €157 billion, the lowest since January 2006, and represents a massive 5% outflow of the entire deposit base as of the end of April. And keep in mind rumors of epic bank jogs and trots did not really pick up until weeks into the second Greek election two weeks ago. At this rate of outflows the entire Greek banking system will have zero deposit cash left in under two years. So aside from the 'details', Europe is all fixed and stuff.
Below is Goldman's quick take on the E-Tarp MOU (completely detail-free, but who needs details when one has money-growing trees) announced late last night. In summary: "We recommend being long an equally-weighted basket of benchmark 5-year Spanish, Irish and Italian government bonds, currently yielding 5.9% on average, for a target of 4.5% and tight stop loss on a close at 6.5%." By now we hope it is clear that when Goldman's clients are buying a security, it means its prop desk is selling the same security to clients.
UPDATE: RIMM just opened at $7.5 from its $9 after-hours close before the halt - a mere 17% drop.
For any RIMM shareholders expecting a miraculous deus ex, somewhat like Europe's broker beggars who still are choosers, to come out of left field in today's earnings reports, there was nothing but epic disappointment.
- Revenues came in at $2.81 billion on expectations of $3.1 billion, and down from $4.91 billion a year prior
- EPS were $(0.37) on expectations of just a 7 cent miss.
- The outlook is just as horrible, with RIMM announcing it expects a Q2 operating loss
- It also see lower shipment volumes, and delayed the launch of Blackberry 10 to Q1 2013
- Finally, the firm will cut 5,000 jobs
If the stock isn't moving much it is because it has been halted since pre announcement. It will reopen at 4:40pm, probably between 10 and 20% lower.
For the past six months we have extensively discussed the topics of asset depletion, aging and encumbrance in Europe - a theme that has become quite poignant in recent days, culminating with the ECB once again been "forced" to expand the universe of eligible collateral confirming that credible, money-good European assets have all but run out. We have also argued that a key culprit for this asset quality deterioration has been none other than central banks, whose ruinous ZIRP policies have forced companies to hoard cash, but not to reinvest in their businesses and renew their asset bases, in the form of CapEx spending, but merely to have dry powder to hand out as dividends in order to retain shareholders who now demand substantial dividend sweeteners in a time when stocks are the new "fixed income." Yet while historically we have focused on Europe whose plight is more than anything a result of dwindling cash inflows from declining assets even as cash outflow producing liabilities stay the same or increase, the "asset" problem is starting to shift to the US. And as everyone who has taken finance knows, when CapEx goes, revenues promptly follow. Needless to say, at a time when still near record corporate revenues and profit margins are all that is supporting the US stock market from joining its global brethren in tumbling, this will soon be a very popular point of discussion in the mainstream media... in about 3-6 months.
Traversing roads that seem like roads in some third world countries, I have to ask where is all the money going?
Only a wilful and ideological Keynesian could ignore the salient detail: as soon as the USA left the gold exchange standard, total factor productivity began to dramatically stagnate. Coincidence? I don’t think so — a fundamental change in the nature of the money supply coincided almost exactly with a fundamental change to the shape of the nation’s economy. Is the simultaneous outgrowth in income inequality a coincidence too? Keynesians may respond that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, and though we do not know the exact causation, there are a couple of strong possibilities that may have strangled productivity. It’s not just total factor productivity that has been lower than in the years when America was on the gold exchange standard — as a Bank of England report recently found, GDP growth has averaged lower in the pure fiat money era (2.8% vs 1.8%), and financial crises have been more frequent in the non-gold-standard years.