Time for a mea maxima culpa: I've been wrong about everything: the stock market, the economy, globalization, energy, everything. Heck, I've even been wrong about the American diet and poor fitness; it's now clear that ice cream sundaes are health food that have been shown to extend life dramatically. Fast food is nutritious and cheap, a great combination, and there is basically nothing in the mind-body that can't be fixed in a jiffy with a handful of pills, all of which are almost free once you qualify for government healthcare programs. The economy has not just dodged recession, it's in full-blown recovery. The only two indicators that are going down are the VIX volatility index, which might just fall to near-zero as investors realize there's no longer any downside in the market and therefore no need to buy hedges, and the unemployment rate, which is steadily declining. 2012 is like 1956, 1964, 1984 and 1996: the economy is booming, and a sitting president has wisely overseen the application of brilliant policies by the Pentagon, State and Treasury departments and the Federal Reserve. The policies were simple: when "more of the same" didn't work, do even more of the same. That did the trick in everything from waging war to finding new energy sources to stabilizing the financial and housing markets. This quote from President Calvin Coolidge neatly sums up 2012: If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.
As we wait for more IIF announcements about the Greek Private Sector Involvement (PSI), Greek CDS remains bid above 60 points up front. For a contract that is about to be "worthless", this seems to have a lot of value. Why would Greek CDS still be so well bid? Whether it is stubbornness, stupidity, or more simply a reality check on the IIF's negotiating power (just how many bonds do they speak for?) and the future unsustainability of Greek debt anyway, it seems that an impressive immediate exchange of all Greek debt with at least a 50% notional reduction, 30 year maturity, and low coupon is pretty well priced in (away from actual Greek bonds that is). Anything less is likely to disappoint the market as the realization that nothing is fixed sinks in, and that this may not even take near term "hard default" off the table (this PSI is a default no matter how it is spun even if it isn't a Credit Event).
As of a few hours ago, Goldman's Francesco Garzarelli has officially told the firm's clients to go ahead and short 10 Year Treasurys via March 2012 futures, with a 126-00 target. While Garzarelli is hardly Stolper (and we will have more on the latest Stolpering out in a second), the fact that Goldman is now openly buying Treasurys two days ahead of this week's FOMC statement makes us wonder just how much of a rates positive statement will the Fed make on Wednesday at 2:15 pm. From Goldman: "Since the end of last August, we have argued that 10-yr US Treasury yields would not be able to sustain levels much below 2% in this cycle. Yields have traded in a tight range around an average 2% since September, including so far into 2012. We are now of the view that a break to the upside, to 2.25-2.50%, is likely and recommend going tactically short. Using Mar-12 futures contracts, which closed on Friday at 130-08, we would aim for a target of 126-00 and stops on a close above 132-00." As a reminder, don't do what Goldman says, do what it does, especially when one looks the firm's Top 6 trades for 2012, of which 5 are losing money, and 2 have been stopped out less than a month into the year.
Yesterday, Reuters' blogger Felix Salmon in a well-written if somewhat verbose essay, makes the argument that "Greece has the upper hand" in its ongoing negotiations with the ad hoc and official group of creditors. It would be a great analysis if it wasn't for one minor detail. It is wrong. And while that in itself is hardly newsworthy, the fact that, as usual, its conclusion is built upon others' primary research and analysis, including that of the Wall Street Journal, merely reinforces the fact that there is little understanding in the mainstream media of what is actually going on behind the scenes in the Greek negotiations, and thus a comprehension of how prepack (for now) bankruptcy processes operate. Furthermore, since the Greek "case study" will have dramatic implications for not only other instances of sovereign default, many of which are already lining up especially in Europe, but for the sovereign bond market in general, this may be a good time to explain why not only does Greece not have the upper hand, but why an adverse outcome from the 11th hour discussions between the IIF, the ad hoc creditors, Greece, and the Troika, would have monumental consequences for the entire bond market in general.
When Morgan Stanley now agrees with most of what Zero Hedge has been saying (especially when it earlier announced that a short covering rally in the EURUSD is imminent, as we have been warning for the past two weeks), it may be time to get concerned. From Morgan Stanley: "Most investors I speak with concur with the view that growth is likely to be below trend for the next several years thanks to deleveraging and a more stringent regulatory environment. However, there is quite a bit of excitement over the probability of QE3 being implemented at some point during 2Q. Exhibit 5 shows just how excited stock investors seem to be getting over this prospect, especially in relation to their fixed income peers. But, this is almost always the case when animal spirits get going. The last time I pointed out such a divergence (October of last year), the SPX had a swift 10% correction over the proceeding 3 weeks. I have no idea whether we are likely to get such a correctly immediately, but I sure can’t rule it out and I am pretty confident you won’t be able to get out of the way unscathed. Just another reason for why I want to be paired off right now." Also, this time will never be different: "Didn’t we learn anything from the Japanese experience of the past 20 years! I might be more on board with the program if I thought we were making real progress on the things that matter for sustainable organic growth. Unfortunately, I just don’t see it."
Nowhere in S&P’s statement about “global economic and financial crisis”, did it clarify that sovereigns were hit due to backing their largest national banks (and international, US ones) which engaged in half a decade of leveraged speculation. But here’s how it worked: 1) Big banks funneled speculative capital, and their own, into local areas, using real estate and other collateral as fodder for securitized deals with derivative touches. 2) They lost money on these bets, and on the borrowing incurred to leverage them. 3) The losses ate their capital. 4) The capital markets soured against them in mutual bank distrust so they couldn’t raise more money to cover their bets as before. 5) So, their borrowing costs rose which made it more difficult for them to back their bets or purchase their own government’s debt. 6) This decreased demand for government debt, which drove up the cost of that debt, which transformed into additional country expenses. 7) Countries had to turn to bailouts to keep banks happy and plush with enough capital. 8) In return for bailouts and cheap lending, governments sacrificed citizens. 9) As citizens lost jobs and countries lost assets to subsidize the international speculation wave, their economies weakened further. 10) S&P (and every political leader) downplayed this chain of events.... The die has been cast. Central entities like the Fed, ECB, and IMF perpetuate strategies that further undermine economies, through emergency loan facilities and bailouts, with rating agency downgrades spurring them on. Governments attempt to raise money at harsher terms PLUS repay the bailouts that caused those terms to be higher. Banks hoard cheap money which doesn’t help populations, exacerbating the damaging economic effects. Unfortunately, this won't end any time soon.
Fed Back To Its Secretive Ways, Sells $7 Billion In Maiden Lane Assets Directly To Credit Suisse Without Public AuctionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/19/2012 14:03 -0400
Instead of opting for a publicly transparent BWIC in the disposition of its Maiden Lane II assets, the Fed has once again gone opaque - long a critique of the Fed's practices which have required repeated FOIAs in the past to get some clarity on its secret bailouts and transactions - and proceeded with a private sale, without any clarity on the deal terms, in which it sold $7 billion in face amount of Maiden Lane II assets direct to Credit Suisse. The alternative of course would be the same snarling of the MBS and broadly fixed income market that we saw in June of last year. In other words, the Fed looked at the options: transparency and risk of grinding credit demand to a halt, or doing what it does best, which is to transact in the shadows, and avoid capital markets risk. It opted for the latter. As to why the Fed decided to go ahead with a deal shrouded in secrecy? "The New York Fed decided to move forward with the transaction only after determining that the winning bid represented good value for the public." "I am pleased with the strength of the bids and the level of market interest in these assets," said William C. Dudley, President of the New York Fed. Because if there is one thing Bill Dudley and the Fed knows is gauging what is in the best interest of the public... and the callorie content of the iPad of course.
The Greek PSI is once again (still) hitting the headlines. Here is what we think the most likely scenario is (80% likelihood). Some form of an agreement will be announced. The IIF will announce that the “creditor committee has agreed in principle to a plan.” That plan will need to be “formalized” and final agreement from the individual institutions on the committee and those that weren’t part of the committee will need to be obtained. The headline will sound good, but will leave a month or so for details to come out. In the meantime every European and EU leader (or employee) with a press contact will say what a great deal it is. That it confirms that Europe is on the path of progress and that they are doing what they committed to at their summits. That will be the hype that will drive the market higher (or in fact has already done so). However, the reality (as we noted earlier in Einhorn's market madness chart) is that this still leaves hedge funds to acquiesce (unlikely) and furthermore focus will switch to Greece's actual debt sustaianability post-default (yes the d-word) and as we are seeing recently, Portugal will come into very sharp focus. If they cannot bribe and blackmail and threaten their way into something they call PSI, then we will see Greece stop making payments, and then the markets will get very ugly in a hurry.
Standard Chartered Does Not See A "Quick Move To Further Loosening" In China, Despite Property CorrectionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/18/2012 00:01 -0400
There were two reasons for today's big initial market move: one was the realization that the next LTRO could be massive to quite massive (further confirmed by a report that the ECB is now seeking a "Plan B"), the second one was that, somehow, even though China's economy came in quite better than expected, and much better than whispered, the market made up its mind that the PBoC is now well on its way to significant easing even though inflation actually came in hotter than expected, and virtually every sector of the economy, except for housing, is still reeling from Bernanke's inflationary exports. While we already discussed the first matter extensively earlier, we now present some thoughts from Standard Chartered, one of the most China-focused banks, to debunk the second, which in a note to clients earlier summarized "what the economy is really doing and where it is going" as follows: "If anything, today’s data is another reason not to expect a quick move to further loosening. The economy is slowing, but not dramatically – so far." This was subsequently validated by an editorial in the China Securities Journal which said there was no reason to cut interest rates in Q1, thereby once again confirming that the market, which in its global Bernanke put pursuit of interpreting every piece of news as good news, and as evidence of imminent Central Bank intervention, has once again gotten ahead of itself. And as the Fed will be the first to admit, this type of "monetary frontrunning" ironically make the very intervention far less likely, due to a weaker political basis to justify market intervention, while risking another surge in inflation for which it is the politicians, not the "independent" central banks, who are held accountable.
A triptych of greece, cement and resolutions.
We don't have to run through the maze 5 times before we know what lever to push!
That after last year's abysmal performance on Wall Street, best summarized by the following quarterly JPMorgan Investment Banking revenue and earnings chart, bonuses season would be painful should not surprise anyone. But hardly anyone expected it to be quite this bad. The WSJ reports that Morgan Stanley, likely first of many, will cap cash bonuses at $125,000 and "will defer the portion of any bonus past $125,000 until December 2012 and December 2013" with bigger 'sacrifices' to be suffered by the executive committee which, being held accountable for the collapse in its stock price, will defer their entire bonuses for 2011. Morgan Stanley is likely just the beginning: "As banks report fourth-quarter results this month and make bonus decisions for 2011, total compensation is likely to be the lowest since 2008." This means that once Goldmanites get their numbers later this week, we will likely see a mass exodus for hedge funds which remain the only oasis of cash payouts on Wall Street. Alas, unlike the Bank Holding Companies, a series of bad decisions will result in hedge fund closure, as the TBTF culture will never penetrate the stratified air of Greenwich, CT. And with bonuses capped at about $80K after taxes, or barely enough to cover the running tab at the local Genlteman's venue, the biggest loser will be the state and city of New York, both of which are about to see their tax revenues plummet. And since banker pay is responsible for a substantial portion of Federal tax revenue, look for Federal tax withholding data in the first few months of 2012 to get very ugly, making America even more responsible on debt issuance, and likely implying the yet to be re-expanded by $1.2 trillion debt ceiling will be breached just before the Obama election making it into the biggest talking point of the election cycle.
One of the more useful Wall Street fictions is the naive notion that big players and small-fry equity owners alike love low-volatility "melt-up" markets that slowly creep higher on low volume. The less attractive reality is that big trading desks find low-volatility "melt-up" markets useful for one thing: to sucker retail buyers and less-adept fund managers into an increasingly vulnerable market. Beyond that utility, low-volatility "melt-up" markets are of little value to big trading desks for the simple reason that there is no way to outperform in markets that lack volatility. The retail crowd may love a market that slowly gains 4% for the year, barely budging for months, but such a market is anathema to big traders. It's always useful to ask cui bono--to whose benefit? In this case, highly volatile markets don't benefit clueless retail equities owners, as they are constantly whipsawed out of "sure-thing" positions. From the big trading desk point of view, this whipsawing provides essential liquidity, as retail traders and inept fund managers trying to follow the wild swings up and down provide buyers. I have a funny feeling the "smart money" has built up a nice short position here and as a result the market is about to "unexpectedly" decline sharply. The ideal scenario for big trading desks here is a sudden decline that panics complacent retail traders and managers into selling (or leaving their stops in to get hit).
With Fed officials a laughing stock (both inside and outside the realm of FOMC minutes), Bank of Japan officials ever-watching eyes, and ECB officials in both self-congratulatory (Draghi) and worryingly concerned on downgrades (Nowotny), the world's central bankers appear, if nothing else, convinced that all can be solved with the printing of some paper (and perhaps a measure of harsh words for those naughty spendaholic politicians). The dramatic rise in central bank balance sheets and just-as-dramatic fall in asset quality constraints for collateral are just two of the items that UBS's economist Larry Hatheway considers as he asks (and answers) the critical question of just how safe are central banks. As he sees bloated balance sheets relative to capital and the impact when 'stuff happens', he discusses why the Eurozone is different (no central fiscal authority backstopping it) and notes it is less the fear of large losses interfering with liquidity provision directly but the more massive (and explicit) intrusion of politics into the 'independent' heart of central banking that creates the most angst. While he worries for the end of central bank independence (most specifically in Europe), we remind ourselves of the light veil that exists currently between the two and that the tooth fairy and santa don't have citizen-suppressing printing presses.