We have in the past attempted to take on the gargantuan task of exposing the multi-trillion Chinese Shadow Banking system (not to be confused with its deposit-free, rehypothecation-full Western equivalent), most recently here. Alas, it is has consistently proven to be virtually impossible to coherently explain something as decentralized and as pervasive as an entire country's underground economy, especially when the country in question is the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma known as China. Today, however, courtesy of AsiaFinanceNews we get a report as close as possible to the most comprehensive overview of what may soon be (especially if rumors of tumbling Chinese municipal dominoes are correct) the most talked about subject in the financial world: China's Shadow Banking empire.
- China accuses Bo Xilai of multiple crimes, expels him from communist party (Reuters), China seals Bo's fate ahead of November 8 leadership congress (Reuters)
- "Dozens of phone calls on days, nights and weekends" - How Bernanke Pulled the Fed His Way - Hilsenrath (WSJ)
- Fed won't "enable" irresponsible fiscal policy-Bullard (Reuters)
- PBOC Adviser Says Easing Restrained by Concerns on Homes (Bloomberg)
- Data Point to Euro-Zone Recession (WSJ)
- Fiscal cliff dims business mood (FT)
- FSA to Oversee Libor in Streamlining of Tarnished Rates (Bloomberg)
- Monti Says ECB Conditions, IMF Role Hinder Bond Requests (Bloomberg)
- Japan Heads for GDP Contraction as South Korea Weakens (Bloomberg)
- Moody’s downgrades South Africa (FT)
- Madrid Struggles With Homage to Catalonia (WSJ)
In the midst of the Great Depression, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon famously advised President Hoover to “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate” instead of propping each industry up with tax dollars. This liquidation doctrine would “purge the rottenness out of the system” and make certain that “people will work harder” and “live a more moral life.” Contrary to popular belief, Hoover did not take Mellon’s advice and went forth with his own version of the New Deal that gave relief to farmers and supported wage rates in certain industries. These efforts, which were exacerbated under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, effectively prevented the market from clearing. The boom of the late 1920s that was driven by the Federal Reserve’s monetary inflation was not allowed to bust. Instead of liquidating the debt and allowing the economy to reach a sound footing, both the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations attempted to manage it back to health. The result was the longest period of unemployment ever recorded in American history.
The world and their mum will be overjoyed all is fixed again in Spain and Apple can be bought safely as today's ramp-a-palooza in risk-assets indicates. However, the 100-pip run in EURUSD which 'correlated-ly' ramped everything did more damage than good in the long-run as Oil prices surged off their 'see QEternity inflation is only transitory' way. WTI topped $92 (up over 3% off yesterday's lows) as Gold and Silver surged on the day to end up around 0.25% on the week (in the face of a 0.25% strengthening in the USD on the week). JPY strength and moreover EUR's push dragged the USD 0.5% lower from yesterday's peak and provided just the lift to get the S&P back to Monday's lows, filled a gap in AAPL's chart and lifted the financials ETF briefly back up to unch from pre-FOMC. Volume and trade size was large as we ramped and drifted once we topped - which smells a lot like pros selling into a stop-run-driven strength. Equities pulled back into the close (even as VIX limped back under 15% down almost 2 vols today) catching down to risk-asset's slightly less ebullient perspective.
We discussed the unintended consequence of QEternity previously as we noted the massive front-running of the Fed's MBS buying program that was occurring as 30Y current coupon mortgage bond yields were tumbling. While the last week or so has seen Treasury yields reverse their rising trend, the trend of front-running the Fed has not abated. In what, quite frankly, stunned us more than Sofia Vergara's wardrobe malfunction this weekend, we note that today the spread between the 30Y FNMA CurCpn mortgage bond (at 1.66%) and 10Y US Treasuries has smashed to incredible all-time lows of around 3bps. The day before QEternity, this spread was 60bps - having been over 100bps at the start of June 2012. The previous low from July 2010 of 54bps has been obliterated as Bernanke has managed to remove one more market from the lexicon of risk (and in the meantime, PIMCO's Bill Gross has earned back his 'bond guru' title by making a killing). Can we see Mortgage yields trade inside of Treasury yields?
The yield on 10Y Spanish bonds just broke back above 6% for the first time in three weeks as the spread to Bunds also broke above 450bps. Now up over 33bps this week (along with Italy +20bps and Portugal +36bps), it seems the market is waking to the idea that words are simply not as good as actions and even actions are irrelevant if they simply kick the can. The front-end of the Italian and Spanish curves are underperforming today (Italy 2Y +12bps and Spain +22bps) as the OMT-front-running exuberance a-la-LTRO is being unwound. It seems European credit markets were indeed on to something yesterday as they underperformed. Spanish and Italian equity markets are down around 3% with France off more than 2% and credit spreads widening notably further in financials and corporates - as EURUSD slides to 1.2850.
We have not been aggressive anti-CDS fanatics in the past - since the ignorance of mainstream media types satisfies that need - as the reality in the credit market is less extreme than many would love it to be. However, the latest move by Markit and its self-aggrandizing dealer owner/clients, to bring names into the high-yield credit index that do not even have CDS trading on them, is simply remarkable. While they will defend the move on the basis that it will force dealers to provide single-name CDS liquidity in three of the high-yield credit markets most-indebted companies (CIT, Charter Comms, and Calpine), the fact is that they are using the liquidity/fungibility of the index to enable risk to be unwound on what is likely bloated balance sheets containing too much of this crap. By imagining (or fixing LIBOR-style) where the CDS would trade, based on where the firms' bonds trade, we worry that the hitherto somewhat liquid source of 'fast' macro-hedging or positioning has become even more manipulable than before - and in the event of a default (or stress/illiquidity event), we can only imagine the law-suits. As the FT notes - all this does is provide more 'arbitrage' opportunities as opposed to real hedging; simply amazing that as with equities - it is now the synthetic indices that run the entire market.
"Dollars spent on entitlements dwarf those spent on discretionary items such as education, and tower over net fixed business investment, which is partially responsible for greater productivity, business expansion and rising living standards. Periods with greater investment as a share of GDP are highly correlated with both faster economic growth and rising living standards. One risk to the U.S. economy is that rising entitlement spending will require the government to borrow from the finite amount of capital held by private savers, thus squeezing out private firms that need the capital to expand businesses and increase productivity."
The final quarter of 2012 is going to prove increasingly challenging. All the issues the EU Elites were able to bury, smooth and bluster through the summer are coming back to the fore. The immediate challenges are Spain, contagion, and banks, and who knows how many sucker punches wait in the wings? It’s no wonder banks are de-leveraging by cutting lending (and accelaterating recession) instead of raising new capital. Well at least the Euro Elites understand it.. This morning we have Bank of Italy chief Visco saying “Italian Banks lowering Leverage Reduces Risk…”
After briefly attempting to stage a rise in the early overnight session, the EUR has since resumed its lower glidepath (something which Germany's export-focused economy and the only realy economic driver in Europe desperately needs: after all Europe is the only entity in the world whose central bank is working to promote a stronger currency) to the 1.2900 support, as once again Europe comes back into focus, exposing all its warts, scars and boils in perfect 1080HD resolution. Among the key events were a Spanish €4.00 billion bill sale as well as an Italian €3.94 billion 2 year bond sale, which despite selling at the maximum of the intended range, showed far less investor demand than on recent occasions, a development which Rabobank said is to be expected as the "Draghi effect" wanes, and once again Europe is left to its own devices. "The longer Spain delays on requesting bailout, the more the improvement in sentiment following Draghi’s pledge to save euro is likely to unwind" Richard McGuire, fixed income strategist at Rabobank, writes in client note. "Unraveling of “Draghi effect” may accelerate, with possible Moody’s downgrade this week and lack of progress at Oct. 8 Eurogroup summit." Other events out of Europe include the ongoing attempts in Spain to package lots of trash under the rug (see: Spanish Bad Bank Risks Investor Conflict With Stressed Lenders), the realization that the Swiss National Bank instead of continuing to exchange EUR for AUD, bought €80 billion of core debt according to S&P, the print of Italy's September consumer confidence which held near 15-Year lows, a French industrial sentiment which held near Two-Year lows, and so on. Greece too continues to make noises but it seems that the little country is being ignored by everyone. Catalonia's separatist tensions however are getting louder after the Barcelona province did not get the unconditional bailout it demanded (as we wrote yesterday).
SS Ponzi is approaching a cliff.
Never try to teach a pig to sing, advised Robert Heinlein. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Similarly, never try to convince a central banker that his policies are destructive. After five years of enduring crisis, market prices are no longer determined by the considered assessment of independent investors acting rationally (if indeed they ever were), but simply by expectations of further monetary stimulus. So far, those expectations have not been disappointed. The Fed, the ECB and lately even the BoJ have gone “all- in” in their fight to ensure that after a grotesque explosion in credit, insolvent governments and private sector banks will be defended to the very last taxpayer. Conventional wisdom is that such moves are justified during this period of economic slowdown, as everyone agrees that the market is ’deleveraging’. But as the consistently excellent Doug Noland points out, this idea of deleveraging (i.e. reduction of available credit) in the US is a myth.
The best gains are behind us especially in the wake of the Fed's vacuum and the lack of any meaningful and sustainable upside catalysts.
If yesterday it was the Middle East's turn to escalate, today it is the Far East, aka Pacific Rim, where China and Japan both remind the world nothing has been fixed in the diplomatic snafu between the two countries over a barren rock in the East China Sea. First, it was China, which on the front page of the biggest daily Xinhua, over the weekend, demanded that Japan immediately stop infringing upon its "territorial sovereignty. To wit: "China asked Japan to immediately stop all acts that harm China's territorial sovereignty, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said late Saturday, after some Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands. Hong said the Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands Friday evening with the excuse of preventing Taiwanese activists from landing on the islets. "It is a severe infringement upon China's territorial sovereignty, and the Chinese government has lodged solemn representations and strong protests to the Japanese side," Hong said in a statement." Other headlines make it quite clear that it is in China's interest to stir populist anger at Japan instead of seeking an amicable resolution. What, however, was the most important article in today's Pacific Rim press is this one which has nothing to do with Japan, and everything to do with China's expanding zone of influence: "China's top security official on Saturday made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, the first time in 46 years that a Chinese leader set his foot on the soil of this landlocked Asian country."
When it comes to diving trends in the Fed's take over of the Treasury market, there are those who haven't got the faintest clue about what is going on, such as Paul Krugman, who naively looks (as Bernanke expects all economists to) at the simple total notional of securities held by the Fed and concludes that the Fed is not doing anything to adjust fixed income risk-preference, and then there are those who grasp that when it comes to defining risk exposure in the bond market, and therefore in equities, all that matters is duration, expressed in terms of ten-year equivalents. Sadly, this is a data set that not every CTRL-V major or Nobel prize winner (in order of insight) can grab from the St. Louis Fed - it is however available to those who know where to look. And as the chart below shows, even as the Fed's balance sheet has remained flat in notional terms, its Ten Year equivalent exposure has soared, rising by 50% during Operation Twist alone, from $900 billion to $1.313 trillion. What this means in practical terms, as Stone McCarthy summarizes, is that the Fed now owns 27.05% of the entire inventory in outstanding ten-year equivalents. This leaves less than 75% of the market in private hands.