Across the Curve
While the Fed is posturing daily whether it will or it won't monetize an ever greater portion of gross US issuance (and considering the drop in US funding needs, unless the Fed tapers it will soon very soon buy more than 100% of all 10 Year equivalent issuance going forward), foreigners have made their position vis-a-vis US paper loud and clear. What is their position? The following chart from today's TBAC presentation to the Treasury makes it very clear. With an ever declining, and recently the smallest on file, notional amount of Treasurys at auction going to foreigners since 2009 (and certainly much further back), they are not sticking around to see what happens.
Risk assets are not quite (yet) back to the ‘melt-up' of May but equity markets are trading in a confident mood after Bernanke caused sentiment to flip from glass ‘half empty' to ‘half full'. China Q2 GDP data did not derail price action as equity futures anticipate a positive start of the week. The semi-annual testimony of the Fed Chairman is typically a seminal event on the market calendar but do we dare say that the one coming up this week is a non-event following last week's message on policy accommodation? The VIX index dropped 7 points over the last three weeks of which 2 points alone came last Thursday and Friday as stocks roared to new highs and shrugged off the candid observation on the Chinese economy by finance minister Lou Jiwei. If a 6.5% growth rate is tolerable in the future, there is little doubt that commodities and the AUD have further to fall. Chinese GDP slowed from 7.7% to 7.5% according to data released overnight and prospects for the second half don't look much brighter after evidence of slowing credit growth. Data on Friday showed declines of narrow money from 11.3% yoy to 9.1% in May, with broad money growth slowing to 14% yoy. Non-bank credit and new foreign currency bank lending also weakened.
Today, as per the latest ICAP data, the collateral shortage is back on, with the 10 Year moving from -0.10% in repo yesterday to 0.85% ahead of Wednesday's second re-re-opening of 912828VB3. But what is more curious is the repo shift, because while the On The Run shortage was to be expected with the 10 Year getting pounded to 2.75% on Friday, it was the 3 Year that saw a plunge in repo, with the repo rate soaring from -0.13% to -1.45%: ostensibly the widest it has been in our records database. In other words, the collateral shortage just ahead of the 3 and 10 Year auctions is back and while the shortage of the 10Y OTR is somewhat more manageable than last month, it is the 3 Year, or the short-end, that is now in very short inventory supply.
In the brief but tempestuous fight between Abe and the "deflation monster", the latter is now victoriously romping through an irradiated Tokyo, if last night's epic (ongoing) collapse in the Nikkei is any indication: down 6.4%, crushing anyone who listened to Goldman's "buy Nikkei" recommendation which has now been stopped out at a major loss in three days, and now well in bear-market territory, it would appear that a neurotic Mrs. Watanabe is finally with done with daytrading the Pennikkeistock market, and demands Shirakawa's deflationary, triumphal return to finally clam the market. Only this time the Japan's selling tsunami is finally starting to spill, if not to the US just yet (it will) then certainly to Asia, where the Shanghai Composite which was down 2.7%, and is once again well down for the year, and virtually all other Asian stock markets. Except for Pakistan - the Karachi Stock Exchange is an island of stability in the Asian sea of red.
As we noted just two weeks ago - before the hope-and-change-driven exuberance in Japanese equities came crashing down - "those who believe in Abenomics are suffering from amnesia," and Nomura's Richard Koo clarifies just who is responsible for the exuberance and why things are about to shift dramatically. Reasons cited for the equity selloff include Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks about ending QE and a weaker than expected (preliminary) Chinese PMI reading, but, simply put, Koo notes, more fundamental factor was also involved: stocks had risen far above the level justified by improvements in the real economy. It was overseas investors (particularly US hedge funds) that responded to Abe's comments late last year by closing out their positions in the euro (having been unable to profit from the Euro's collapse) and redeploying those funds in Japan, where they drove the yen lower and pushed stocks higher. Koo suspects that only a handful of the overseas investors who led this shift from the euro into the yen understood there was no reason why quantitative easing should work when private demand for funds was negligible... The recent upheaval in the JGB market signals an end to the virtuous cycle that pushed stock prices steadily higher.
Common wisdom, which in this market of media-led hope and hysteria rapidly becomes the meme-du-jour, is that, as American Banker puts it, for banks that are currently earning slim yields on stagnant pools of loans, higher interest rates are a welcome prospect. However, in reality (that annoying fact-based world in which we really live) Net Interest Margins (NIM) are not so simple and linear and in fact. There is simply a lot of noise in NIM figures. Data over the last decade or so hints that there is a positive link between how steep the yield curve is and how wide net interest margins are - which makes sense to the extent that banks lend long and borrow short - but imbalances in the durations of assets and liabilities are risky and a more important factor for short-term changes in margins is whether banks are positioned to be hurt or helped by a simultaneous move in rates across the curve. The bottom line - rising rates and steepening curves do not infer higher NIM - facts are facts.
JGB Futures Narrowly Avoid Third Halt In Three Days (By A Tick); 5Y Yields Jump To Highest In 22 MonthsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/14/2013 01:07 -0500
JGB Futures avoid a third halt in three days by 1 tick (drop 0.99 vs 1.00 handle limit) but two words spring to mind - not orderly. It seems the pendulum of 'inflation repricing channel through the JPY' has begun to swing back towards the JGB market - not what Abe and his cohorts would have hoped for given the deluge of monetization they are up to. As we originally discussed here, the inflation expectations can be spread across bonds or FX and just as we saw in 2007, 2008, and 2011, the initial burst takes place in one market and the normalizes as the other catches up. In this case it was a massive devaluation of the JPY that is now being 'caught up' to by the JGB yields rising. 5Y JGB yields just topped 40bps (from a 9.9bps low on March 5th!!) and their highest since July 2011. Of course, the problem with rising rates is the burden it puts on the government as cost-of-debt accelerates beyond tax revenues with negative trade balances; and if the JGB channel is now 'inflation security of choice' then JPY devaluation will take a back seat (and so will JPY carry trades driving risk-on around the world - as we noted here). And as if that wasn't all exciting enough, Japanese Machine Tool Orders re-accelerated to the downside -24.1% YoY (worst since January).
There a couple of good reasons to be more than moderately concerned about what’s happening in the fixed income space. Once more my gallant crew, we are sailing into choppy waters... which may mean trouble ahead, but it also spells opportunity! Two things concern us: Firstly, despite global easing, global bond yields have backed up last few days. Immediately the Fed gets the blame with rumours they may scale back QE – which is reactive nonsense. The Fed has made clear we need to see clear evidence of growth, not just hints, before they change course. But the Treasury market is off across the curve. JGBs, Gilts and Europe are all higher last few days. Is this a buying window after some mild panic, or has something really changed? The second issue with the market currently is that global rates are so low the market is losing the will to live/play. When highly speculative CCC names yield less than 7% what's the point in investing? The risk-reward is just too skewed toward higher risk over lowering returns that it simply makes little sense to take.
The words "Shit Heel" come to mind.
Another session in which the market continues to be "cautiously optimistic" about Europe, but is confused about Cyprus which keeps sending the wrong signals: in the aftermath of the Diesel-Boom fiasco, the announcement that the preciously announced reopening of banks was also subsequently "retracted" and pushed back to at least Thursday, did little to soothe fears that anyone in Europe has any idea what they are doing. Additional confusion comes from the fact that the Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus moments ago submitted his resignation: recall that this is the bank that is supposed to survive, unlike its unluckier Laiki competitor which was made into a sacrificial lamb. This confusion has so far prevented the arrival of the traditional post-Europe open ramp, as the EURUSD is locked in a range below its 200 DMA and it is unclear what if anything can push it higher, despite the Yen increasingly becoming the funding currency of choice.
A few observations about growth and policy backdrop that is shaping the investment climate. It is a large overview that may be helpful to start the week.
For most portfolio managers, investable assets can be thought of as sitting somewhere on the risk-return curve. If we look at the risk-return curve today it is obvious that 75% of global financial assets are now locking in real losses, unless of course, inflation collapses and deflation takes hold in the major economies. If we are spared a massive deflationary wave the assets at the bottom left of the curve will lose 1.5% real per year for the next five years. This means that, for global assets to stay roughly in the same place, equities will need to provide a real return of 4.5% per year for five years. However, it is important to note that such returns will only serve to compensate for the capital destruction taking place in the fixed income market. Real returns on equities of 4.5% will not leave us any richer compared to our starting level. This means that investors will have spent five years on a treadmill running to stand still. When you consider that no asset growth was registered in the previous five years, we are facing a whole decade devoid of capital accumulation. Given the world’s aging population, isn’t this bound to be problematic?
Sometimes, it feels good to hope. But since last September, nothing has really changed. At least not fundamentally. The zero-interest rate policies were going to encourage share buybacks, dividend payments and any method to allow the extraction of whatever real value is still available to extract from corporations/businesses by their owners. This meant leverage was going to increase, unemployment would remain high, capital expenditures were going to decrease and the risk of defaults was to going to rise. A year later, all these symptoms are starting to surface. One more reason to avoid stocks and be long gold. But in my view, it will take longer than many believe, for these imbalances to burst "...As long as the people of the EU put up with this situation and the EU Council (…) effectively kills democracy at the national level AND as long as the Fed continues to extend US dollar swaps, this status quo will remain… Whenever the political sustainability of the EU is challenged, we will see a run for liquidity... The trend is for asset inflation, and will last as long as the people of the EU and the US do not challenge the political status quo..." Unemployment and the tolerance of those unemployed will tell us when the time has come.
With the Fed purchasing $45 billion in Treasury securities across the curve each month, keeping a consistent picture of Ben Bernanke's consolidated, risk-adjusted holdings can be somewhat problematic: the best way to do this is to represent the Fed's $3 trillion balance sheet, of which $1.7 trillion is in Treasurys, in the form of ten year equivalents. A ten-year equivalent is the amount of 10-year notes that must be held by the Fed in order to remove the same amount of interest rate risk from the market as its current holdings. This allows for a uniform representation that eliminates the duration variance along the curve. Looked in this light it may come as a surprise to some that as of this moment, the Fed now owns some 29% of the entire amount of marketable ten-year equivalents outstanding in the entire US bond market.
There may be rotation out of bonds (there isn't), but don't tell the Direct bidders, who submitted a total $22 billion in bids for today's $35 billion Two Year auction, and well below last month's $18.2 billion, and were hit on just under half of this tendered amount, taking down a massive $10.4 billion, or precisely 29.99% of the entire auction. This was the second highest Direct takedown in history only less than October's 35.41%. What is curious is that Indirect buyers, traditionally strong buyers of the 2 Year point on the curve, and taking down on average 31% in the past year, were left with just 18% of the auction, slightly better than last month's record low 17.7%, and the second lowest as far as our time series goes. The balance of 52%, as always, was left to the Primary Dealers, who will promptly turn around and flip it back to the Fed at the first opportunity now that the Fed is monetizing across the curve and not just to the right of the belly. Other metrics of today's auction included a 3.77 Bid to Cover, roughly in line with the trailing 12 month average, and higher than December's 3.59, while the final high yield was not surprisingly, 0.288, just inside of the 0.289% When Issued at 1 PM trading. Overall hardly a flight from Treasurys, at least in the segment where the nominal return is absolutely laughable, and an indication that nobody believes for a second that ZIRP may be ending any time soon.