Re: LTRO2, banks, CRE and the oppurtunity to see just how much free really costs...
The Blokes across the pond are starting to sound as bad as some of the sell side charlatans stateside. Either that or the weed over there is just that much better!
Why is the financial world so messed up? Because it’s run by Central Bankers. And those folks view money very differently than the businesspeople who create businesses, jobs, and wealth.
Everybody has their own "on the ground" recession indicators: the mall parking lot, the tony restaurant that used to be packed every weekend, and so on. I have two favorites: freight trains rumbling south down the main line of the West Coast and "sell your own car" used car lots. The freight trains are self-explanatory: at the top of the housing bubble, they were loaded with flatcars of lumber. Now? A lot of empty flatcars and container flats. A lot. Yes, the official statistics indicate rising rail traffic, but they must mean one more car has a load in a 100-car train and there's only 20 empties. The freight trains I see are still running with beaucoup empty cars. There may be some explanation of why this is so, but I can report that these trains pulled no empties in 2007. "Sell your own car" lots reflect the "private market" for used cars. If you want to know what people are trading in for new cars, then go look at new car dealers' used lots. At the local Honda dealer, I saw a number of Lexus SUVs on their used lot; people trading down to save on gasoline?
Today's second most important event is the testimony of Bernanke before the House Financial Services Committee (yes, Maxine Waters will be there). Lawmakers will question him about the Fed's plans on avoiding inflation and the current unemployment rate. Committee members are also expected to inquiry about fiscal policy, the status of the nation's economic recovery, the impact of rising gas prices, and the debt crisis in Europe. Most importantly, Benny will be asked to testify on when more QEasing is coming as the markets need their fix. Watch it live at C-Span after the jump.
For anyone who traded in the 2003-2007 interval (second liens what else - did anything else even trade in that period), the name DB Zwirn was synonymous with hedge fund perfection. In fact, the only name that stood above it was that of Phil Falcone's hedge fund Harbinger. Gradually, both of these high fliers were replaced in the awestruck trader lexicon with another "legendary" hedge fund, that of Paulson & Co. But for a brief period the Zwirn offce at 745 Fifth is where every fixed income trader wanted to reside. Yet as always happens, anything that is too good to be true, isn't. Below is William Cohan, who in a way that only he can, spins the tale of the the rapid rise and even more rapid fall of the hedge fund manager who had it all by his thirties, only to lose it (mostly) all shortly thereafter.
Dear Santa, I know Christmas is a long way off, but I was hoping that you could get me a European Bank License and another round of LTRO. I promise to be a good boy, and borrow as much money as the ECB will possibly give me, with minimal equity, and buy as much 3 year in and in paper as I can. I’m afraid I might not be able to bring myself to buy Spanish or Italian debt, but with the broad range of assets available against the money, I’m sure I can find something I like. I’m not greedy, I don’t need to make 2% of carry, I would be happy with 1%, after all, I my only qualification is having a bank license, and I have no real equity in the deal (though after 3 years if all goes well, I will be a very rich man, or bank).
Back on January 27, before the impact of the trillions in liquidity injections by the central banks was fully appreciated, the advance Q4 GDP print came in below estimates of 3.0%, printing at 2.8%. Today, we just got the flip flop to that, after the second revision just printed at 3.0%, on expectations of an unchanged print at 2.8%. The reason: a fine-tuning, whether seasonally adjusted or not, which improved 4 of the components of Q4 GDP (Fixed Investment, Personal Consumption, Imports, Government Expenditures), while reducing two (Inventories and Exports) nominally. Net result, a slight bump from 2.8% to 3.0% for the second Q4 GDP print. The final GDP revision will be made public on March 29 - if history is any precedent, it will be back down to 2.8%. As for the reason why the market is less than delighted with this "beat" is that with EUR Brent at record highs, courtesy of everyone else but primarily the ECB doing the equivalent of QE 3 in 2011's biggest deception play, it firmly take the Fed's punchbowl away at least for 3 months. More at 10 am when Bernanke testifies.
On this leap day, we have a busy schedule which includes the second Q4 GDP revision, Chicago PMI (expect another massive beat courtesy of consumers confident that they can have Apple apps, if not so much food, since they still don't pay their mortgages), various Fed speakers, of which most important will be Ben Bernanke who takes the podium in Congress at 10 am for his semi-annual monetary policy report.
So far there are no dramatic consequences of the Greek default. The ECB did say they couldn’t accept it as collateral, but national central banks (including Greece’s somehow solvent NCB) can, so no real change. We will likely get a Credit Event prior to March 20th once CAC’s are used to get the deal fully done. Will the market respond much to that? Probably not, though there is a higher risk of unforeseen consequences from that, than there was from the S&P downgrade. It just strikes us that Europe wasted a year or more, and has created a less stable system than it had before. Tomorrow’s LTRO is definitely interesting. It seems like every outcome is now bullish – big take up is bullish because of the “carry” trade. Low take up is bullish because “banks are okay”. Any weak bank looking to borrow from the LTRO to buy sovereign debt would be insane to buy bonds longer than 3 years and take the roll risk, but on the other hand, the weakest and most insolvent, got there by doing insane things in the first place.
We have repeatedly voiced our views on Buffett's relentless bashing of the only asset that is a guaranteed protection against now exponential currency debasement and central planner, and other PhD economist, stupidity, most recently here. We are happy that other, more politically correct asset managers, have decided to share how they fell, and take the crony capitalist to task. The first (of many we are sure), are Lee Quaintance and Paul Brodsky of QBAMCO who have just penned "Golden Boy" or the much needed "high society" response to the old man from Omaha: "Buffett may be a sage, a wizard, and an oracle when it comes to nominal relative value pricing of financial assets, but it is well worth noting that Buffett’s proclamations are not necessarily worthy of being considered “fact” in matters unrelated to finance, just as the legendary Joe Paterno’s judgment seems to have been sorely lacking when it came to sorting out matters unrelated to a winning football program....We must assume his aggressive gold comments have been meant to force the price of gold lower. (We do not know why he is so interested in doing so though we do have a reasonable theory, for another time). We strongly disagree with Mr. Buffett’s views and we thought it would be best to explore his comments and provide our counter-arguments."
The “Placebo Effect” is fascinating. In a typical drug testing trial, one group of patients will receive the actual drug being tested, and a “control” group will be given an “inert” medicine (or “sugar pill”) that shouldn’t do anything for the patient, but the patient doesn’t know that. So much of what I find wrong about “economics” is that it masquerades as far more of a science than it actually is. It doesn’t have theories that can be “tested” in a real world, where 2 similar situations are treated differently to see which “treatment” works better. Each economy and each situation is so different that it is IMPOSSIBLE to determine why policies failed or what should have been done differently. It is possible to come up with reasonable ideas and theories of what could have been done or should have been done, but they are only theories. The systems are so complex that finding situations with similar starting conditions with similarly motivated entities involved is simply impossible to find. The fact that so much of our policy seems to be based on research into what should have been done in the Great Depression and what has been seen in Japan is frankly scary. There is no way to “know” how the Great Depression would have turned out with a different set of policies. We can make conjectures, but that is all they are – conjectures. The LTRO was designed to support the market, the market is up, so the LTRO must be working. That at least is the logic many investors are applying. They see the improvement in sovereign debt yields, the avalanche of “positive” (if unfounded) headlines, and the relentless march higher of the stock market. So the plan is working? Not so fast.
While hardly discussed broadly in the mainstream media, the top news of the past 24 hours without doubt is that in addition to losing its fiscal sovereignty, and numerous other things, the Greek population is about to lose its gold in a perfectly legitimate fashion, following amendments to the country's constitution by unelected banker technocrats, who will make it legal for Greek creditors - read insolvent European banks - to plunder the Greek gold which at last check amounts to 111.6 tonnes according to the WGC. And so we come full circle to what the ultimate goal of banker intervention in the European periphery is - nothing short of full gold confiscation. So just how much gold will be pillaged by the banker oligarchy (it is amusing how many websites believe said gold is sacrosanct by regional national banks, and thus the EUR is such a stronger currency as it has all this 'gold backing' - hint: it doesn't, as all the gold is about to be transferred to non-extradition countries)? As the World Gold Council shows in its latest update, between all the PIIGS, who will with 100% certainty suffer the same fate as Greece (which has shown that unlike during World War 2, it is perfectly willing to turn over and do nothing) there is 3234 tonnes of gold to be plundered. And likely more as further constitutional amendments will likely make the confiscation of private gold the next big step. how much does this amount to? At today's prices this is just shy of $185 billion. Of course by the time the market grasps what is going on the spot price of the yellow metal will be far, far higher. Or, potentially far, far lower and totally fixed as the open gold market is eventually done away with entirely in a reversion to FDR gold confiscation and price fixing days.
- IMF Official: 'Huge' Greek Program Implementation Risks In Next Few Days (WSJ)
- European Banks Take Greek Hit After Deal (Bloomberg)
- Obama Urged to Resist Calls to Use Oil Reserves Amid Iran Risks (Bloomberg)
- Hungary hits at Brussels funds threat (FT)
- Bank Lobby Widened Volcker Rule Before Inciting Foreign Outrage (Bloomberg)
- Germany fights eurozone firewall moves (FT)
- New York Federal Reserve Said to Plan Sale of AIG-Linked Mortgage Bonds (Bloomberg)
- G-20 Asks Europe to Beef Up Funds (WSJ)
- New Push for Reform in China (WSJ)
To all those who stayed up until 6 am local time yesterday to hear Europe announce that the Greek deal is done, Europe is fixed, and that a pot of gold was found at the end of the rainbow, our condolences. Sorry, no isn't. Following up on our earlier post about the potential of UK-law bondholders to once again scuttle the deal, here comes none other than the IIF's Charles Dallara who basically says that the fate of Greece, the Euro, and the Eurozone, are in the hands of Greek creditors as we have been cautioning all along. And after all why on earth would hedge funds who just lost over 70% of their recoveries bear a grudge whatsoever...