Tomorrow we prepare for a “new” Fed. It looks a lot like the old Fed, but one can hope. In the meantime we wonder if QE is worth it? Does it do what it is “supposed” to do? No. We don’t think it has done much for jobs or inflation or housing. We look at the pre QE data and the post QE data and we are underwhelmed. But what real evidence is there that QE is helping the economy? Would we be the same without it? Better even? I am told no, but I am told a lot of things that turn out not to be true. If it was clear that QE was really helping the economy, I wouldn’t be wondering why we do it. But is there any harm to QE? That is the other side of the coin. Ask any person from an Emerging Market whether QE is harmful and you will likely get a very different answer than the one Ben has given.
So much for the strict, evil Volcker Rule which was a "victory for regulators" and its requirement that banks dispose of TruPS CDOs. Recall a month, when it was revealed that various regional banks would need to dispose of their TruPS CDO portfolios, we posted "As First Volcker Rule Victim Emerges, Implications Could "Roil The Market"." Well, the market shall remain unroiled because last night by FDIC decree, the TruPS CDO provision was effectively stripped from the rule. This is what came out of the FDIC last night: "Five federal agencies on Tuesday approved an interim final rule to permit banking entities to retain interests in certain collateralized debt obligations backed primarily by trust preferred securities (TruPS CDOs) from the investment prohibitions of section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, known as the Volcker rule." In other words, the first unintended consequences of the Volcker Rule was just neutralized after the ABA and assorted banks screamed against it.
Over the past two weeks, Trust Preferred (or TruPS) CDOs have gained prominent attention as a result of being the first, and so far only, security that the recently implemented and largely watered-down, Volcker Rule has frowned upon, and leading various regional banks, such as Zions, to liquidate the offending asset while booking substantial losses. But... what are TruPS CDOs, and just how big (or small) of an issue is a potential wholesale liquidation in the market? Courtesy of the Philly Fed we now have the extended answer.
Yesterday afternoon, Zions Bancorp, Utah's biggest lender, stunned the financial community with a regulatory filing in which it announced that as a result of the final Volcker Rule implementation, it will need to make some very dramatic changes to its balance sheet, which would also have a follow through, and quite adverse, impact on its income statement. To wit: "Under the published rule, the Company would no longer have the ability to hold disallowed securities until the anticipated recovery of their amortized cost. Therefore, as of December 15, 2013, Zions anticipates that in the fourth quarter of 2013 it will reclassify all covered CDOs that currently are classified as “Held to Maturity” into “Available for Sale,” and that all covered CDOs, regardless of the accounting classification, will be adjusted to Fair Value through an Other Than Temporary Impairment non-cash charge to earnings. The net result would eliminate substantially all of the accumulated other comprehensive income adjustment to equity related to the covered securities." The implications of this announcement could be severe, and in a worst case scenario, as Sterne Agee notes, could "roil the market"...
Faith in the current system is as high as it has ever been, and folks don't want to hear otherwise. If you're one of those people who thinks it prudent to have intelligent discussion on some of these risks -- that maybe the future may turn out to be less than 100% awesome in every dimension -- you're probably finding yourself standing alone at cocktail parties these days. A helpful question to ask yourself is: if I could talk to my 2009 self, what would s/he advise me to do? Don't put yourself in a position to relearn that lesson so soon after the last bubble. Exercise the wisdom to look like an idiot today.
On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed) will celebrate its 100th birthday, so we thought it was time to take a look at the Fed’s real accomplishment, and the practices and policies it has employed during this time to rob the public of its wealth. The criticism is directed not only at the world’s most powerful central bank - the Fed - but also at the concept of central banks in general, because they are the antithesis of fiscal responsibility and financial constraint as represented by gold and a gold standard. The Fed was sold to the public in much the same way as the Patriot Act was sold after 9/11 - as a sacrifice of personal freedom for the promise of greater government protection. Instead of providing protection, the Fed has robbed the public through the hidden tax of inflation brought about by currency devaluation.
Many have likened the ETF structure of today to the CDO structure of the last bubble as the potential catalyst for accelerating moves in risk markets. If that is the case, then the collapse in the shares outstanding of the massively popular and liquid Russell 2000 ETF IWM will likley make some ask WTF?
Ye Gods! Even that discredited old hack, Alan Greenspan ? the man who bears as much responsibility as anyone for the hypertrophy of state- supported finance and thus for the havoc it continues to wreak ? is at it, trying to tell us that because of a low ‘equity premium’ (read: ludicrously intervention?depressed bond yields), the ‘momentum’ of stocks ‘is still relativel. Such a market is therefore likely to suck everyone in to its last, Plinian updraft no matter how stretched everything becomes and no matter how great the risk of being cast into perdition in the pyroclastic collapse to come.
This week marked what we suspect will become an important inflection point when the world looks back at this debacle of a bubble. The Fed, having already warned in January of 'froth' in credit markets (and ths the fuel for 'hope' in stocks) proposed tougher underwriting standards for leveraged loans. Credit markets have underperformed since; but as Diapason Commodities' Sean Corrigan notes, the baleful impact of the central banks is still everywhere to be seen in the credit markets. From junk issuance to the rapid regrowth of the CDO business to the 'record' high multiples now being exchanged for LBOs; Central Banker's monomaniacal fixation on zero interest rates and artificial bond pricing is setting us up for the next, great disaster of misallocated capital and malinvested resources.
The sad, stark fact is that oil is now too expensive to permit further expansion of economies and populations. Expensive oil upsets the cost structure of virtually every system we need to run modern life: transportation, commerce, food production, governance, to name a few. In particular expensive oil destroys the cost structures of banking and finance because not enough new wealth can be generated to repay previously accumulated debt, and new credit cannot be extended without a reasonable expectation that more new wealth will be generated to repay it. Through the industrial age, our money has become an increasingly abstract and complex product of debt creation. In short, a society with deeply impaired capital formation has turned to crime, corruption, fakery, and subterfuge in order to pretend that “growth” — i.e. expansion of capital — is still happening.
Frequent readers will recall that in the past, on several occasions, we expected that MBIA would rise due to two key catalysts: a massive short interest and the expectation that a BAC settlement would provide the company with much needed liquidity. That thesis played out earlier this year resulting in a stock price surge that also happened to be the company's 52 week high. However, now that we have moved away from the technicals and litigation catalysts, and looking purely at the fundamentals, it appears that MBIA has a new problem. One involving Zombies. These freshly-surfacing problems stem from a particular pair of Zombie CLO’s – Zombie-I and Zombie-II (along with Zombie-III, illiquid/black box middle-market CLO’s). While information is difficult to gather, we have heard that MBIA would be lucky to recover much more than $400 million from the underlying insured Zombie assets over the next three years, which would leave them with a nearly $600 million loss on their $1 billion of exposure which would materially and adversely impact the company's liquidity. And as it may take them a while to liquidate assets in a sure-to-be contentious intercreditor fight – their very own World War Z – MBIA may well have to part with the vast majority of the $1 billion in cash, before gathering some of the potential recovery.
"Mr. Martin-Artajo thought that the market was irrational."
- Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, US Senate, Report on JPM Whale Trades: A Case History of Derivatives Risks and Abuses, p. 104
Just like Breaking Bad, the most exciting trading drama of 2012 is coming to an end.
On Thursday afternoon, there was a disturbance in the Bloomberg headline-generating force, after the world's premier newswire CNN-ed both the news surrounding Sylvio Berlusconi's verdict (announcing he had been cleared when he hadn't, and correcting shortly thereafter), followed promptly by a repeat when minutes later it reported that Goldman's CDO mastermind - the person on whom all the evils of the housing bubble era have now been scapegoated - Fab Tourre had been cleared, when in reality he had just been found "liable in defrauding investors." We were, however, quite stunned to learn that one day later, the editor who was responsible for misreporting the Tourre news, was unceremoniously fired. But what was truly shocking is that while Pickering was fired for an innocent error, Bloomberg still keeps on its payroll people such as Greg Giroux who on the same day reported the following mindblowing "news"...
Lurking deep in the just filed Bank of America 10-Q (alongside data on its quarterly trading acumen which as usual made a mockery of random statistical probability distribution with just 7 days of losses and profits on 57) is this nugget which shows BAC's litigation expenses may be set to surge once more.
Fear, like greed, makes people, and that would include investors, behave irrationally. Two major equity bear markets in the last 13 years have traumatized investors. The belief in Modern Portfolio Theory in general and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH) in particular has been shaken and finance theory will have to be re-written. So, Absolute Return Partners' Niels Jensen asks, what is it specifically that has changed? Human behavior certainly hasn’t. Greed and fear have been factors to be reckoned with since day nought. When faced with the unknown, people (in this case, fund managers) will use whatever information they can get hold of. Hence we shouldn’t really be surprised that fund managers extrapolate current earnings trends when forecasting future earnings, despite the evidence that it is a futile exercise. Occasionally, the Wisdom of Crowds turns into the Madness of Mobs and all rational behavior goes out the window. History provides many examples of that. EMH is entirely unsuited to deal with froth. What made economists love the EMH is that the maths behind it is so neat whereas the alternative truth is a little messy.