Decades of manipulation by the Federal Reserve (through its creation of paper money) and by Congress (through its taxing and spending) have pushed the US economy into a circumstance that can't be sustained but from which there is no graceful exit. With few exceptions, all of the noble souls who chose a career in "public service" and who've advanced to be voting members of Congress are committed to chronic deficits, though they deny it. For political purposes, deficits work. The people whose wishes come true through the spending side of the deficit are happy and vote to reelect. The people on the borrowing side of the deficit aren't complaining, since they willingly buy the Treasury bonds and Treasury bills that fund the deficit. And taxpayers generally tolerate deficits as a lesser evil than a tax hike. So stay up as late as you like on election night to see who wins, but the deficits aren't going to stop anytime soon. The debt mountain will keep growing. The part of it the government acknowledges is now approaching $16 trillion, which is more than the country's gross domestic product for a year. Obviously, the debt can't keep growing faster than the economy forever, but the people in charge do seem determined to find out just how far they can push things.
As clearly indicated well over 2 yrs ago, Italy will first default on its over optimistic promises (check), then look to actually default on (restructure) its debt (next).
When it comes to sovereign bond issuance out of Europe the market either continues to be blissfully ignorant or is purposefully stupid: a few hours ago Spain sold €3.18 billion in 12 and 18 month bills, which was more than the expected €3 billion, and which, while coming at higher rates than before, set off a futures buying spark. What however has been pointed out over and over is that issuance of Bills that come due (by definition) within the LTRO's 3 year maturity is meaningless: all it does is concentrate and front-load maturity risk. After all what happens if and when the ECB were to ever not roll the LTRO forward? As such, the only true Spanish bond issuance test this week comes on Thursday when the country issues 10 year bonds. Everything else is merely designed to take advantage of a headline driven market. Specifically, Spain issued €2.09 billion in 364-day bills, which priced at an average yield of 2.623% vs 1.418% at auction on March 20, and at a 2.90 Bid to Cover compared to 2.14 previous. The yield on the second tranche, or €1.086 billion in 546-Day bills soared from 1.711% on March 20 to 3.11% as the Spanish curve again flattens, and despite the rise in Bid to Cover from 3.92 to 3.77, the internals were largely meaningless. Once again, when it comes to true paper demand, the only ones that matter are those that mature outside of the LTRO's 3 years. However today this sleight of hand has worked, and the Spanish 10 year is again under 6.00%, if only for a few hours, sending equity futures higher across the board. Elsewhere, proving once again that no other indicator is better at ramping up stocks, is the coincident indicator known as confidence, German Zew for April came in at 40.7 in April, much higher than expectations of 35, on what however we don't know: dropping markets, soaring inflation, or a return to a declining trendline. Even BofA noted that "There seems to be some disconnect between the latest releases of "hard data" (industrial production, orders received) and the investors expectations." Finally, the Royal Bank of India surprisingly cut its rate from 8.5% to 8.0%, as at least one country can not wait for Bernanke to do his sworn duty of CTRL-P'ing. Oh, and Japan, which has 1 qudrillion Yen in debt, promised to give the IMF $60 billion. So when Japan needs a bail out, we now know that Argentina will step up.
The Bonds in Spain will drain without restrain showing utter disdain for the Euro domain. Research that Rhymes!!!
All you need to read and some more.
Further confirmation of gold’s continuing but gradual renaissance as a safe haven asset was given by the IMF yesterday who warned that a “growing shortage of safe assets” poses a threat to “global financial stability.” The IMF identified $74.4 trillion of potentially safe assets today, including gold, investment grade government and corporate debt, and covered bonds. Sovereign debt crises are reducing the number of governments that investors trust to issue "risk-free" bonds just as new financial regulations are increasing demand for safe securities from banks. Importantly, the IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report’s introduction finds that "In the future there will be rising demand for safe assets, but fewer of them will be available, increasing the price for safety in global markets.” “Both the lack of political will to reshape fiscal policies at times of rising concern over debt sustainability and an overly rapid reduction of fiscal deficits limit governments’ capacity to produce assets with low credit risk.” The IMF has warned regarding illiquidity in “safe haven” markets. Gold remains one of the most liquid markets in the world and the illiquidity in bond markets would see increased safe haven demand for gold. The IMF is warning regarding deteriorating public finances. As many governments see themselves being downgraded - safe haven bonds may become less safe.
All eyes were on Europe again today, where Italy sold debt for the second day in a row, only this time instead of 1 year and lower Bills, the Tesoro came to market with On and Off the run issuance maturing in 3 through 11 years. And as was to be expected, with a substantial portion of the debt maturing after the LTRO 3 year window, the auction was mixed, far weaker than yesterday's LTRO-covered Bill issuance, and the maximum target of €5 billion was not met, instead a total of €4.884 billion was sold. Furthermore yields surged compared to previous auctions. "The funding environment is getting tougher for the periphery. Overall we believe the spreads are biased towards further widening although we still prefer Italian debt over Spanish," said Michael Leister, a strategist at DZ Bank.What is most worrying is that the funding picture is again deteriorating rapidly, although not as fast as in Spain, even as LTRO cash is still sloshing around European banks. What happens when it runs out?
UK and EU markets played catch up at the open this morning following Friday’s miss in the US non-farm payroll report. This coupled with on-going concerns over Spain has resulted in further aggressive widening in the 10yr government bond yield spreads in Europe with the Spanish 10yr yield edging ever closer to the 6% level. As a result the USD has strengthened in the FX market in a moderate flight to quality with EUR/USD trading back firmly below the 1.3100 and cable falling toward the 1.5800 mark. There was some unconfirmed market talk this morning about an imminent press conference from the SNB which raised a few eyebrows given the recent move in EUR/CHF below the well publicised floor at 1.2000, however, further colour suggested an announcement would be linked to the naming of Jordan as the full-time head of the central bank when they hold their regular weekly meeting this Wednesday. Elsewhere it’s worth noting that the BoJ refrained from any additional monetary easing overnight voting unanimously to keep rates on hold as widely expected. Meanwhile, over in China the latest trade balance data recorded a USD 5.35bln surplus in March as import growth eased back from a 13-month peak.
- JPMorgan Trader Iksil Fuels Prop-Trading Debate With Bets (Bloomberg), but, but, he is just proividing liquidity, and serving JPM's clients
- Short on tools, central banks left with words (Reuters)
- And the mainstream media finally catches up: Investors braced for fall in US profits (FT)
- Iran rules out pre-conditions to talks: Salehi (Reuters)
- North Korea ‘planning third nuclear test’ (FT)
- Japan to Hold Talks With China on IMF Contributions (Reuters)
- American Universities Infected by Foreign Spies Detected by FBI (Bloomberg)
- Is the Fed Promoting Recovery or Desperation? (Hussman)
- In Europe, Unease Over Bank Debt (NYT)
- Banks test ‘CDOs’ for trade finance (FT)
While the idea of a futuristic tale of the resurgence of Greece and how Germany shot itself in the foot could well be the work of the horror-writer, HSBC's Chief Economist Stephen King opines on what could well be with a moral for those who want Athens out of the Euro. "The idea that Greece can leave and that the rest of the eurozone will then live happily ever after – a view that is quickly becoming the conventional wisdom – is surely wrong. Departure might eventually be an answer to Greece's difficulties but it only asks questions of everybody else." And the fantastic journey King lays out is rooted in a sad reality that he sums up thusly: "Germany's gamble had failed. In the attempt to punish Greece, it had ended up with an impossible choice: creating a fiscal union or huge currency upheaval. Berlin had taken aim at Greece but shot itself in the foot."
And like that, Europe is broken again. Following a spate of negative European data (what else is there), including a miss in German industrial production as well as a miss in UK manufacturing output, all eyes are again on Spain, especially those of the bond vigilantes, who have sold off the sovereign European bond market, sending the Spanish-Bund spread to over 400 bps for the first time since December 2011. The main reason today: a Goldman report saying Spain will unlikely meet its 2012 and 2013 budget targets, as well as JPM Chief Economist David Mackie saying Spanish government "missteps" have raised questions about its credibility, making investors reluctant to purchase Spanish debt. Stress has returned to periphery, if it broadened into bank funding markets more LTROs would be forthcoming; if that “failed to hold yields at an appropriate level” Spain may need assistance from the EFSF/ESM and the IMF. Euro area unlikely to return to stability in sovereigns without some burden sharing; nominal growth likely to stay below borrowing costs, making fiscal targets “all but impossible to achieve”. UBS piles in saying Spanish banking stresses still haven't been addressed. Finally, a big red flag is that market liquidity is once again starting to disappear, and as Peter Tchir points out, Main is now being quoted with 3/4 bps bid/ask spread, all the way up to 1 bps spread. In other words, as we have been warning for weeks, the period of fake LTRO-induced calm is over, and the market is demanding more central planner liquid heroin. The question becomes whether Europe has even more worthless collateral in exchange for which the ECB will continue handing out discount window money in sterilized sheep's clothing. Yet nowhere is the resumption in risk flaring more evident than in the Swiss Franc, where the EURCHF all of a sudden broke through the critical 1.20 SNB floor, which was set back in September 2011, the day gold was trading at its all time high. Said otherwise, everyone is once again scrambling for safety. And since they can't get it in the CHF, it is only a matter of time, before gold resumes its ascent as the paper currency alternative that sent it to its all time highs late last summer.
Who will buy our debt in the coming months and years? Europe is saturated with debt and doesn’t have the means to purchase our debt. Japan is a train wreck waiting to happen. China’s customers aren’t buying their crap, so their economic miracle is about to go in reverse. The Federal Reserve cannot buy $1 trillion of Treasury bonds per year forever without creating more speculative bubbles and raging inflation in the things people need to live. The Minsky Moment will be the point when the U.S. Treasury begins having funding problems due to the spiraling debt incurred in financing perpetual government deficits. At this point no buyer will be found to bid at 2% to 3% yields for U.S. Treasuries; consequently, a major sell-off will ensue leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market clearing asset prices and a sharp drop in market liquidity. In layman terms that means – the shit will hit the fan. The Federal Reserve and Treasury will be caught in their own web of lies. The only way to attract buyers will be to dramatically increase interest rates. Doing this in a country up to its eyeballs in debt will be suicide. We will abruptly know how it feels to be Greek....The entire financial world is hopelessly entangled by the $700 trillion of derivatives that ensure mass destruction if one of the dominoes falls. This is the reason an otherwise inconsequential country like Greece had to be “saved”.
We have previewed the phasing out of the LTRO effect previously here on several occasions. Now, courtesy of Art Cashin, everyone is aware that the eye of the European hurricane has officially passed, especially in the aftermath of this morning's horrendous Spanish bond auction, which shows that reality is back with a bang.
In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution, America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard. I regret the changes and will propose reforms, or, I suppose, re-reforms, as my program is very much in accord with that of the founders of this institution. Have you ever read the Federal Reserve Act? The authorizing legislation projected a body “to provide for the establishment of the Federal Reserve banks, to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper and to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes.” By now can we identify the operative phrase? Of course: “for other purposes.” As you prepare to mark the Fed’s centenary, may I urge you to reflect on just how far you have wandered from the intentions of the founders? The institution they envisioned would operate passively, through the discount window. It would not create credit but rather liquefy the existing stock of credit by turning good-quality commercial bills into cash— temporarily. This it would do according to the demands of the seasons and the cycle. The Fed would respond to the community, not try to anticipate or lead it. It would not override the price mechanism— as today’s Fed seems to do at every available opportunity—but yield to it.