Across the Curve
UPDATE: Treasuries still bid with 10Y -12bps ay 2.06%, 7Y -12bps at 1.44% and 5Y comfortably back under 1% -9bps.
Risk-Off. Treasury yields dropped around 12bps across the curve from pre-NFP as the 10Y yield drops the most in 5 months. Equity futures are down the most in a month (20pts off pre-NFP levels) and testing lows as they catch up to credit weakness. IG credit is testing 100bps for the first time in over 2 months and HY credit is back over 600bps - its widest in 3 months. Gold has popped $10 or so to over $1640 and it appears we have a new FX regime with USD weakness implying market weakness as JPY strength (on repatriation and carry unwinds back to one-month highs) is the most impressive (and AUD weakness for same reason). EURUSD is leaking higher as is swissy, as the EUR-USD swap spread model converges on EURUSD's fair-value. Of course markets are thin, but ES (the S&P 500 e-mini futures) is trading relatively actively and testing lows once again as they close - not pretty at all as ES ends the week with the heaviest 3-day loss in four months (perhaps notably ending at 2011's May high print level).
The "down in European hours, and surge as soon as Europe is closed" trade is once again so well telegraphed even Mrs. Watanabe is now in it. Sure enough US futures are red as European shares slide for the second consecutive day, with 16 out of 19 sectors down, led by banks, travel and leisure. Spanish and Portuguese bond yields are up. Not much data overnight, except for Chinese Non-manufacturing PMI which rose modestly from massively revised numbers: February adjusted to 57.3 from 48.4; January to 55.7 from 52.9 - and that, BLS, is how you do it. European PPI rose 3.6% Y/Y on estimates of a 3.5% rise, while the employment situation, or rather lack thereof, in Spain gets worse with an 8th consecutive increase in jobless claims, rising by 38,769 to 4.75 million. Bloomberg reports that Spanish home prices are poised to fall the most on record this year, leaving one in four homeowners owing more than their properties are worth, as the government forces banks to sell real-estate holdings. Francois Hollande, France’s Socialist presidential candidate, widened his lead over President Nicolas Sarkozy in voting intentions for the second round of the 2012 election, a BVA poll showed. Italian bank stocks are notably down and today seems set to be the third consecutive day in which we see trading halts in Intesa and Banca Popolare. Few more weeks of this and the financial short-selling ban is coming back with a vengeance. Yet all of this is irrelevant: the bad news will simply mean the global central banks will pump more money, putting even more cracks in the monetary dam wall, and the only question is how long before US stocks decide to front-run the European close, and whether European stocks will rise in sympathy, just because they get to close one more day.
The main event of the past 48 hours: the Chinese "Schrodinger" PMI, which came much weaker or stronger, depending on whether one uses the HSBC or official data (which always has a seasonal jump from February into March) has been forgotten. Any bullish sentiment from a 'hard landing-refuting' PMI (which incidentally means less chance of easing), was erased following a very weak Japanese Tankan sentiment report, which saw exporters fret about a return to Yen strength. Naturally, the market response was to immediately shift hopes and dreams of more easing to the BOJ, if the PBOC is for the time being off the hook. Alas, since the BOJ's actions have traditionally had much less impact on global markets, stocks are not happy. This was followed by a bevy of Eurozone data, where unemployment rose to 10.8% from 10.7%. And while this deterioration was expected, the slide in French PMI was not, dropping from 47.6 to 46.7, on expectations of an unchanged print. The modest bounce in German PMI and especially in the UK from 51.5 to 52.7, where QE is raging, were not enough to offset fears that it is now "France's turn" and that global PMIs are once again showing that the recent $2 trillion in global liquidity equivalent injections have already peaked, in line with expectations: after all the half life of central planning interventions is getting progressively shorter.
A bevy of economic data misses overnight, including German and UK retail sales, Japan industrial production, UK consumer confidence, and a European economy which is overheating more than expected (2.6% vs 2.5% exp, although with $10/gas this is hardly surprising), and futures are naturally green. The reason: the broken record that is the European FinMins who are now redirecting attention from the slowly fading LTRO impact to the good old standby EFSFESM, which according to a statement by de Jager has now been agreed on at €800 billion, lower than last week's preliminary expectation for €940 billion in joint firepower. That this is nothing but a headline grabber is as we have noted before, as there is much doublecounting, capital allocation to and by the PIIGS as well as funding already assigned. It will likely take stocks some time before the realization dawns that this is not new capital and liquidity entering the markets, unlike QE on either side of the Atlantic, while the amount is largely inadequate to fill the multi-trillion liquidity shortfall, let alone "solvency" of European sovereigns and banks. So for now enjoy the greenness all around.
Bad news is once again good news. Asia sells off on Monday's weaker profit news; the Bank of Spain says that the Spanish economy is expected to see a negative print in Q1 which if confirmed will ensure a fresh recession while the budget statistics released by the Spanish government yesterday showed further deterioration in its fiscal situation, per DB. The deficit for the first two months of the year was €20.7bn and this does not include state and regional governments’ budgets; lastly American housing slump accelerates as MBA mortgage applications drop for the 7th consecutive week with applications down 2.7%, on the back of a 4.6% decline in refi applications, the lowest since December 7. And futures are...green. Which is to be expected, since good news is good news, and bad news is, thanks to the Fed, and in this case uber-dove Rosengren, who said more stimulus is on the table, better news. It is now obvious that the Fed will not rest until the market is at fresh all time distorted, manipulated, nominal highs.
Any and all negative overnight news are now completely ignored as the scramble for risk hits the usual fever pitch following Bernanke's latest attempt to transfer cash from safe point A to ponzi point B, aka stocks. First, China's industrial firms suffered a rare annual drop in profits in the first two months of 2012 mainly in petrochemicals, metals and auto firms, the latest signs of weakness in the world's No. 2 economy and reinforcing the case for policy easing, according to Reuters. This was the first Jan-Feb profits downturn since Jan-Aug 2009. Profits fell 5.2 percent so far in 2012, according to the industrial profitability indicator, published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) every month. The last period that China reported nationwide industrial profit fall was in the first eight months of 2009. Then there was the German GfK Consumer Confidence which unlike yesterday's IFO, missed: nobody cares. Also on the negative side was an earlier auction of Spanish Bills which sold EUR 2.58 billion, just barely off the low end of a target issuance of EUR 2.5-3 billion. As noted however, neither this, nor the series of US disappointments which looks set to end March with 15 of 17 estimate misses is relevant. To wit: French consumer confidence soared to 87 on expectations of 82, as the easiest and lowest common denominator to boost risk assets is now abused everywhere, by UMich, by Germany and now by France. And why would people not be confident - stocks everywhere are higher despite fundamentals. After all if something fails, there is a central planner to fix it. Never forget - the taxpayer credit card has no limits. Net result - green across the board.
Remember all those European PMIs which imploded over the past month, destroying any hopes of a rapid rebound from Europe's technical recession? You can forget them now because the one indicator which tracks the level of the manipulated stock market more than anything else, German IFO business survey, just came better than expected, at a whopping 109.8 compared to expectations of 109.6 print, same as the previous one. And that is all it takes for futures, and the EURUSD to ramp, which in turn plants the seeds for another confidence ramp next month and so on. Here is Goldman's take: "The assessment of current conditions remained unchanged at 117.4, while expectations increase to a level of 102.7 after 102.4. Looking at the different sectors it shows that confidence in the manufacturing sector was broadly stable on a high level (14.0 after 14.3), while construction saw a small decline after a surge over the last couple of months (2.3 after 3.3; confidence stood at -13.2 in October). Confidence in the retail sector also recorded a strong gain (106.6 after 3.7), while wholesale saw a decline (12.8 after 15.0). This is a strong report with business conditions remaining significantly above their long-term average of 101.1. The rebound in business conditions after a soft spot during October to January is indicative for a rebound in the underlying momentum in the economy." Well, no, if anything it is indactive that Germans were happy to reap the benefits of a few trillion in liquidity which in turn pushed markets higher, and making Germans even more confident despite the big miss in German PMI in March. But for now a big drop in the market is unwelcome so let's focus on reflexive, Catch 22 indicators. Even Goldman is perplexed on the spin: "Only the release of the 'hard' data in the coming weeks will show which survey is giving the correct signal with respect to the underlying momentum of the German economy. But in any case, the March IFO argues against taking, at least for now, the PMIs at face value."
Yesterday we discussed extensively how the narrative of US decoupling, which has so far trumped everything else, is finally fading, is coming to an abrupt end, and with no other "plotline" to take its place, as China, Europe and corporate profits are all in the dumps, the only option is for more easy money to come soon. However, with crude sticky this will be a problem in an election year. Today, this sentiment has become even more acute as new Greek 2023 bonds have for the first time trade over 20%, with weakness spreading to all the other PIIGS, and talk of yet another LTRO already picking up pace. The question of what if any assets European banks is luckily ignored for now. So as futures turned red once more, here is Bank of America summarizing the bearish market sentiment this morning.
Futures continue exhibiting a very surprising and ever brighter shade of ungreen as the morning session progresses, starting with the 5th consecutive contractionary Chinese PMI data, going through disappointing European Manufacturing and Services PMIs which came below expectations (47.7 vs Est. 49.5 for Mfg; 48.7 vs Est. 49.2 for Services), with an emphasis on French and German PMIs, both of which were bad (German Mfg PMI 48.1, Est 51, prior 50.2; Services PMI 51.8, Est. 53.1, Prior 52.8), and concluding with UK sales which printed at -0.8% on expectations of -0.5%. And just like that Europe is "unfixed", prompting economists such as IHS' Howard Archer to speculate that following "worrying and disappointing" Euro PMI data, the ECB may cut rates to 0.75%, as Europe is finding it hard to return to growth after the Q4 contraction. And with that the beneficial impact of the €1 trillion LTROs is now gone, as Spain spread over Bunds has just risen to the widest in over 5 weeks, and the beneficial market inflection point passes - prepare for LTRO 3 demands any minute now.
There are two main news updates dominating early newsflow: the first comes from BHP Billiton, after the world's largest miner raised concerns about the possibility of a sharp slowdown in demand from top metals consumer China. Per Reuters: "There is a slowing trend in China ... moving increasingly away from the growth model that they have had, which may be a little less metals intensive. This is not new, but recognition by big mining companies would have had an effect." Australian iron ore miners, key beneficiaries of China's modern-day industrial revolution, signaled on Tuesday demand growth was finally slowing in response to Beijing's moves to cool its economy. BHP Billiton said it was seeing signs of "flattening" iron ore demand from China, though for now it was pushing ahead with ambitious plans to expand production." That this comes just on the tail of JP Morgan warning of a hard landing in China is curious, and one wonder if the Federal Reserve Bank of JP Morgan is not fully intent on telegraphing that the next big center of QE will be the PBOC. The other news is that the perpetual crude "upside capacity" strawman Saudi Arabia 'has pledged to take action to lower the high price of oil, which has risen to around $125 a barrel, with laden supertankers set to arrive in the US in the coming weeks. ... Saudi Arabia said yesterday it will work "individually" and with the other petrol-rich Gulf states to return prices to "fair" levels. The country indicated earlier this year that $100 a barrel was the ideal oil price." There is one problem with this as expected Saudi attempt to help Obama's reelection campaign: as pointed out yesterday, it is very unlikely that Saudi Arabia has any realistic ability to do much if anything to push the price of crude lower, especially if and when the middle east hostilities flare up.
With a economic calendar devoid of virtually any events, the only two events worth of note this morning are the Greek CDS auction (where RBS appears to once again be confusing price and discount), and the Apple cash announcement due in just over an hour. The result is Apple stock which in the premarket session has traded as high as a new record high og $606, even as concerns emerge that the growth phase is over as the company transitions into a MSFT-type, post-Steve Jobs existence. Details of the 9 am call can be found here. Aside from that risk is broadly flat as hungover American traders take their seats.
A snoozer of an overnight trading session for now, with Asia rising modestly, Europe green and the now priced in futures levitation as US traders walk in. Nothing material to report, except the usual - the European leverage reality continues to deteriorate: as has been long discussed the taxpayer cost to rescue Greece keeps rising, and the latest and revised figure of the bailout is €172.6 billion, €43 billion than previously thought by some (as we have pointed out from the beginning the true cost of the bailout will hit €210 billion). We will shortly point out the total disaster that the Greek balance sheet is with 7 classes of debt outstanding post the OSI. More disturbing is the "austerity" report out of Spain, where we just learned that total public debt has hit €735 billion at the end of 2011, with regions debt at €140.1 billion, which means that public debt rose to 68.5% of GDP, from 61.2% a year prior. As Peter Tchir says: "We are still in no one cares mode, but the exposure the core has to the periphery is growing by the day. Germany's exposure is growing because of Target 2, and Spain and Italy are busy guaranteeing the debt of their banks. On the surface, all is calm. Below the surface it is messier than ever. They are doing everything possible to keep that mess covered because if it rises to the surface, it will be harder to control than ever before." As a reminder, this is precisely what happened in early 2011... and early 2010. You can only keep trillions of underwater debt under the rug for so long.
Quiet trading so far with some risk off episodes in Europe (Monte Pasci halted after dropping 5%), and total confusion in the Greek bond market, with old bonds, new bonds, and CDS all trading as nobody has a clue just what is eligible for trade and what isn't (one thing is certain - GGB2s continue to trade well wide of Portugal, yielding around 18-20% for the 10 year spot). Here is how BofA sees the trading session so far.
Following a busy overnight session, which saw a surprise announcement out of the Brazilian Central Bank cutting rates more than expected, and confirmation of the deterioration in the Japanese economy where January saw a record current account deficit, today we have already seen the Bank of England proceed as expected keeping its key interest rate unchanged (at 0.50%) and QE fixed at GBP325 billion. The ECB is next with its rate announcement, expected to keep things on hold. Yet the mood of the morning is set by speculation that the Greek debt swap may see a sufficient participation rate for the PSI to go through, even if that means CAC activation, as somehow a Greek default is good, and only an "out of control" bankruptcy would be bad. That coupled with renewed expectations of more QE, sterilized or not, and hopes that tomorrow's NFP will be better than expected, as somehow the Fed will pump money even if the economy is "improving", is all that is needed to send the post-roll ES contract to session highs nearly 1% higher than yesterday's close.
As the ECB has stopped its SMP bond-buying and now the LTROs are all done (until the next one of course), Portuguese bond spreads have been increasing rapidly and post-LTRO today even more so. While broadly speaking European sovereign risk is modestly higher this week (and notably steeper across the curve) leaving funding costs still very high for most nations, Portugal has exploded over 100bps wider (and almost 70bps of that today post-LTRO) to back over 1200bps wider than Bunds. Only Italian bonds are better and even there they are leaking back to unch from pre-LTRO. Perhaps, shockingly, more debt did not solve the problem of too much debt and with growth and deficits being questioned in Ireland and Portugal (and Spain), it's clear the newly collateralized loan cash the banks have received won't be extended to the medium-term maturities in sovereign bonds.