European equities have been grinding lower throughout the European morning, with basic materials seen underperforming following the release of a multi-month low Chinese CPI figure, coming in at 2.2%, below the expected 2.3% reading. The focus in Europe remains on the Mediterranean periphery, as weekend reports from Spanish press suggest that the heavily weighted Valencia region may be pressed into default unless it receives assistance from the central government. The sentiment is reflected in the Spanish debt market today, with the long-end of the curve showing record high yields, and the 10-yr bond yield remaining elevated above the 7% mark. News from an EU council draft, showing that Spain is to be given extra time to meet its deficit targets did bring the borrowing costs off their session highs, but they do remain stubbornly high at the North American crossover. The gap between the core European nations and their flagging partners continues to widen, as Germany sell 6-month bills at a record low of -0.0344%. As such, the 10-yr government bond yield spread between the Mediterranean and Germany is seen markedly wider on the day.
Attempts to manipulate free markets invariably end badly - after all, they are, supposedly, by their very nature, free. Over the past few weeks, the exposure of the Libor-rigging scandal has monopolized the headlines of the financial press. The rather obvious implication being that given almost half the reported inputs that help establish the Libor rate are discarded immediately, Barclays simply CANNOT have manipulated the Libor rate alone. Period. At best this is a cartel, at worst it’s outright fraud on a scale that is completely unprecedented. In Grant Williams' humble opinion, the Libor scandal will mark a fundamental change in the treatment of financial conspiracy theories in the media. The sheer amount of coverage it will undoubtedly receive will signal a shift in attitude towards the exposing of such scandals rather than the blind-eyes that have been regularly turned in recent years. Prime amongst conspiracy theories that may soon be finally proven to be either valid or the figments of overactive imaginations, are those alleged in the gold and silver markets. If the long-stated claims about government-sanctioned, bank-led manipulation of precious metals markets are eventually proven to have any validity whatsoever, the fallout from the Libor scandal will prove to be (to use the words of Jamie Dimon) just another “tempest in a tea pot” as the precious metals are the very underpinnings of the entire global financial system.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that major commercial banks manipulate Libor submissions for their own benefit. As Jefferies David Zervos writes this weekend, money-center commercial banks did not want the “truth” of market prices to determine their loan rates. Rather, they wanted an oligopolistically controlled subjective survey rate to be the basis for their lending businesses. When there are only 16 players – a “gentlemen’s agreement” is relatively easy to formulate. That is the way business has been transacted in the broader OTC lending markets for nearly 30 years. The most bizarre thing to come out of the Barclays scandal, Zervos goes on to say, is the attack on the Bank of England and Paul Tucker. Is it really a scandal that central bank officials tried to affect interest rates? Absolutely NOT! That’s what they do for a living. Central bankers try to influence rates directly and indirectly EVERY day. That is their job. Congresses and Parliaments have given central banks monopoly power in the printing of money and the management of interest rate policy. These same law makers did not endow 16 commercial banks with oligopoly power to collude on the rate setting process in their privately created, over the counter, publicly backstopped marketplaces.
A generation of market participants has grown up knowing only the era of central bankers and the 'Great Moderation' of (most of) the last two decades elevated their status significantly. While central bankers are generally very well aware of the limits of their own power, financial markets seem inclined to overstress the direct scope of monetary policy in the real world.
If markets fall, investors need only to run to central bankers, and Ben Bernanke and his ilk will put on a sticking plaster and offer a liquidity lollipop to the investment community for being such brave little soldiers in the face of adversity
Monetary policy impacts the real economy because it is transmitted to the real economy through the money transmission mechanism. This has become particularly important in the current environment, where, as UBS' Paul Donovan notes, some aspects of that transmission mechanism have become damaged in some economies. Simplifying the monetary transmission mechanism into four very broad categories: the cost of capital; the willingness to lend; the willingness to save; and the foreign exchange rate; UBS finds strains in each that negate some or all of a central bank's stimulus efforts. In the current climate, it may well be that the state of the monetary transmission mechanism is even more important than monetary policy decisions themselves. Some monetary policy makers may be at the limits of their influence.
With global PMI rolling over again, dimming unemployment growth, and slowing EM Asia impacting global production, it is no wonder than BofAML's economics team sees a dearth of 'feelgood' factors in the market. In fact, as they note, further rate cuts in the euro area and China along with around $500bn of NEW QE in this quarter are priced into the market with any hope for risk assets to rally more consistently, investors will need to see not just willing-and-able central bankers but an abatement of the sovereign crisis in Europe and improvement in global data - neither of which they expect anytime soon. Easier monetary policy can only cushion the blow from higher uncertainty in the US and Europe. Effective policy breakthroughs would thus have to come from compromises in the European Council or in US cross-party politics. Investors have yet to zero in on the real impacts of rising economic uncertainty in the US. As Ethan Harris and Michael Hanson have argued, it is unlikely that the cliff is fully priced into the markets and US political dysfunction will share the spotlight with the European crisis over the next few months. And as last time, the joint act will likely undercut investor confidence.
And in the meantime, not a peep about any bank in the US, which is ironic considering JPM, Citi and BofA are BBA member banks, and had among the lowest fixing rates during the period in question, and as Bob Diamond himself said, "everyone did it." One may almost get the impression that US regulators and politicians, gasp, have a motive to not investigate banks for not only criminal but civil malfeasance. And why should they: after all there is unlimited taxpayer money. And if that ends, the US can just print some more.
Summit full life: One week. Literally. Last Friday morning speculation that Germany had "caved" to Mario Monti, somehow allowing beggars to be choosers, and would allow an unconditional and IMF-free rescue of Spain and Italy while the seniority of the ESM was eliminated, sending the Spanish 10 Year yield to under 6.2%. The same security is now back over 7%, where it was just before the summit, as Finland and Holland (or half of Europe's AAA-rated countries), and even Germany, made it quite clear, as we said all along, that stripping seniority of a piece of debt is far more complex than saying one wants to do it in a Memorandum of Understanding. The other thing pushing Spanish spreads wider was German FinMin spokesman Kotthaus saying that no decision on Spain can be taken on Monday as there is no Troika report on Spain bank aid yet, and that the European bailout activation, which was supposed to begin on July 9th, may be delayed until July 20. At that point it will likely be delayed again, only this time GSPGs may be trading wider than their lifetime highs of 7.285%. Finally, adding insult to Mario Monti "victory" is that Merkel's popularity rating just hit a multi-year high. So: who was last week's summit "winner" again?
It seems that governmental efforts to save the underwater and ineligible homeowner from his own fate are reaching fever pitch. Not only do we hear today of the up to $300mm in Agriculture Department Rural Housing Service loans that may have financed ineligible projects or borrowers with a high potential inability to repay the loans; but yesterday's WSJ reports on the growing call for 'eminent-domain' powers to be used by local government officials in California to stop the "housing bust's public blight on their city". In yet another get-out-of-jail-free card, the officials (helped by a friendly local hedge-fund / mortgage-provider) want to use the government's ability to forcibly acquire property to remove underwater homes, restructure the mortgage (cut principal), and hand back the home to the previously unable to pay dilemma-ridden homeowner. As PIMCO's Scott Simon puts it: "I don't see how you could find it anything other than appalling", as this would crush property prices further and drive up borrowing costs. As we noted earlier, until these mal-investments are marked to market, there will be no useful growth in our credit-bound economy but transferring wealth to the 'mal'-investor seems like a terrible idea.
A few days ago we noted that the ECB may well be contemplating the monetary neutron bomb, which would see it lower rates to below zero, ushering in a Negative Interest Rate Policy. Today, Mario Draghi cut such speculation short promising the ECB has not discussed this. Yet one bank which certainly has is the Danish Central Bank, which just lowered its Discount Rate to 0%, joining China, England, the ECB, and, of course, Kenya in easing, but also went one step further and cut its deposit rate to negative 0.2%. Keep a note of this: NIRP is coming to a central bank, and shortly thereafter to a bank deposit branch, near you very soon.
ECB is running out of options. Germany can't afford any more bailouts. Euro is overvalued compared to the dollar.
The Fed does everything it can to keep LIBOR low. The Fed cannot affect LIBOR directly, but in general LIBOR trades in line with Fed Funds. You can see that historically as Fed Funds was changed, LIBOR responded appropriately. That all started to break down in 2007 and re-ignited in the late summer of 2008 and peaked after Lehman and AIG. The Fed was blatantly clear that it wanted borrowing costs to go down. They had the obvious tool of reducing Fed Funds to virtually zero, but when LIBOR didn't follow, the Fed took further action. The Fed has done a lot and trying to control LIBOR as a key borrowing rate is one of the things they have worked on, both directly and indirectly.
Germany will leave the Euro the moment that the EU Crisis spreads to France. At that point any discussion of EU bailouts is pointless, as the very countries needing aid (France, Italy, Spain, and Greece) account for 53% of the ESM’s funding.
Local Governments Which Entered Into Interest Rate Swaps Got Scalped
While the bailout ball is in the German constitutional court, which has 8 days to decide, and potentially put the entire timeline of Europe's bailout in limbo should it cogitate longer than July 9 without handing over the ESM law to the president, in effect forcing the country into a Euro bailout referendum, it is easy to forget that there are other AAA-rated countries in Europe, which also have a say as to who gets bailed out. As of this morning, it appears that Germany may increasingly be the only one left footing the insolvency bill as both Finland and Holland said "Ei" and "Nee" respectively.
Three weeks ago we mocked, rightfully so, the utter joke that is Liebor, which had been unchanged for just over 3 months. Nobody cared, certainly not the British Banker Association. This was not the first time: our first allegations of Liebor fraud and manipulation started over three years ago. There were others too. Nobody certainly cared back then. Now, in the aftermath of the Barclays lawsuit, and "those" e-mails, everyone suddenly cares. And a few days after the first public exposure of Lie-borgate, the first victim has been claimed: as numerous sources report, Barclays' Chairman Marcus Agius wil step down immediately. From the WSJ: "Political and investor pressure has mounted on the management of U.K.-based Barclays since the settlement was announced Wednesday. The announcement of Mr. Agius's departure could come as soon as Monday, said one of the people. Mr. Agius, 65 years old, a British-Maltese banker who formerly worked at Lazard Ltd., has led the bank since 2007, steering Barclays through the 2008 financial crisis and avoiding the direct state bailouts that were needed by many of its global peers." While the sacrifice of a scapegoat is expected, what we don't get is why the Chairman: after all by the time Agius became Chair of the British bank, the bulk of the Libor fixing alleged in the FSA lawsuit had already happened. And of course, with Bob Diamond having succeeded John Varley as CEO in 2010, one can easily claim that in this first (of many) confirmed Liebor transgression there really is nobody at fault who can be held accountable. Of course, Barclays is merely the first of many. We fully expect Lieborgate to spread not only to other British BBA member banks, but soon to jump across the Atlantic, where CEOs who have been with their banks for the duration of the entire Libor-fixing term will soon find themselves under the same microscope.