"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.
Someone is going to face the music after all. It seems the SEC has its mid-level (non-executive) crisis scapegoat:
*TOURRE LOSES SEC CASE CLAIMING FRAUD IN $1 BILLION CDO
Tourre has been found guilty on 6 of the 7 cases - we await news on the financial penalties. Perhaps more critically, this finding (in favor of the SEC) may open the door for more lawsuits against Goldman with regard similar transactions.
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.
While high-yield bond yields are at record lows, the spread (or compensation for risk) remains above all-time record lows leaving some to suggest there is room for more compression and for the circus to continue. The credit market's disconnect from anything macro-, micro-, or cashflow-related (with CCCs now trading sub-7%) is purely a function of flow and yield-grabbing with WACC curves back at 2006 levels suggesting little pain for firms willing to relever to recap their shareholders. In late 2006, the high yield credit market surged ahead of stocks in an exuberant fanfare (heralded by many as the new normal then); it retraced quickly, only to re-accelerate (driven by the vinegar strokes of a CDO rampage) until April 2007 when it once again roared tighter (way ahead of stocks) in a final capitulative fervor. Fast forward 6 years and in September last year (QE3) HY raced ahead of stocks (only to retrace) and in the last few weeks credit has massively outperformed stocks in what feels very capitulative once again. Is this melt-up the message most ignored in 2007?
While most comprehend that when buying credit-risky instruments the most critical aspect of return is the spread (or additional compensation over the risk-free rate) which itself is in 'bubble' territory; it is nevertheless spell-binding that the so-called 'High Yield' corporate bond market is now trading with a yield below 5% for the first time on record - a level at which 10 Year Treasuries were trading in July 2007...
With macro data becoming worse and worse (more and more bullish for Fed free money) and stocks off to the races (despite earnings that are abysmal), we thought a litle reminder of just what is driving this un-reality in nominal price moves. As the following chart, inspired by UBS, shows, each time the S&P 500 shows any sign of weakness, US money grows dramatically (money defined as the sum of M2 and foreign custody repo-able holdings at the Fed). Simply put, this is the reaction function of the Bernanke Put and explains why any weakness in Europe causes problems for the US - as the foreign banks repatriate and impact this 'growth' support. Correlation is not causation, but it is a strong hint.
Over a year ago, we first explained what one of the key terminal problems affecting the modern financial system is: namely the increasing scarcity and disappearance of money-good assets ("safe" or otherwise) which due to the way "modern" finance is structured, where a set universe of assets forms what is known as "high-quality collateral" backstopping trillions of rehypothecated shadow liabilities all of which have negligible margin requirements (and thus provide virtually unlimited leverage) until times turn rough and there is a scramble for collateral, has become perhaps the most critical, and missing, lynchpin of financial stability. Not surprisingly, recent attempts to replenish assets (read collateral) backing shadow money, most recently via attempted Basel III regulations, failed miserably as it became clear it would be impossible to procure the just $1-$2.5 trillion in collateral needed according to regulatory requirements. The reason why this is a big problem is that as the Matt Zames-headed Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC) showed today as part of the appendix to the quarterly refunding presentation, total demand for "High Qualty Collateral" (HQC) would and could be as high as $11.2 trillion under stressed market conditions.
Goldman Sachs, pillar of ethical honesty in the lead up to the last market top and crisis, appears to be so bullish on leveraged loan and high-yield debt that it prefers to create an entirely separate holding company (that requires less transparency and avoids the Volcker Rule), raise external equity capital, lever up, and use a management team with "no experience managing a business development company (BDC)." As the WSJ reports, Goldman plans to offer shares in a new unit, Goldman Sachs Liberty Harbor Capital LLC "as soon as is practicable," in a BDC that means it is exempt from the so-called Volcker Rule. The entity also enables Goldman to report less transparently since it qualifies as an emerging growth company under the JOBS Act. Given the richness of credit, and the 'frothiness' in high-yield, is this an implicit option on credit (if credit rallies, profits go up to parent entity; if credit tanks, entity implodes and eats 'remotely' the new equity capital without affecting the bank itself)? Or maybe we are being too negative?
Succinctly summarizing the positive and negative news, data, and market events of the week...
One of the most interesting issues of what has happened in Cyprus is where was the problem three weeks ago? There was not a mention, not a hint of anything that was wrong. All of the banks in Cyprus had passed each and every European bank stress test. The numbers reported out by the ECB and the Bank for International Settlements indicated nothing and everything reported by any official organization in the European Union pointed to a stable and sound fiscal and monetary policy and conditions. The IMF, who monitors these things as well, did not have Cyprus or her banks on any kind of watch list. In just two weeks' time we have gone from not a mention of Cyprus to a crisis in Cyprus because none of the official numbers were accurate. Without doubt, without question, if this can happen in Cyprus then it could happen in any other country in the Eurozone because the uncounted liabilities are systemic to the whole of Europe.
We urge readers to do a word search for "Moody's" in the official department of justice release below. Here are the highlights:
DOJ COMPLAINT ALLEGES S&P LIED ABOUT ITS OBJECTIVITY - when it downgraded the US?
HOLDER SAYS S&P'S ACTIONS CAUSED `BILLIONS' IN LOSSES - did Moody's actions, profiled previously here, which happens to be a major holding of one Warren Buffett, cause billions in profits?
HOLDER SAYS `NO CONNECTION' BETWEEN S&P SUIT, U.S. DOWNGRADE - just brilliant
Pure pathetic political posturing, because it was the rating agencies, whose complicity and conflicts of interest everyone knew about, who were responsible for the financial crisis. Not Alan Greenspan, not Ben Bernanke, and certainly not Wall Street which made tens of billions in profits selling CDOs to idiots in Europe and Asia. Of course, the US consumer who had a gun held against their head when they were buying McMansions with no money down and no future cash flow is not even mentioned.
Unfortunately, the spectacular rise of Wall Street’s securitization machine will likely forever frustrate attempts to ascertain the extent to which the Fed is responsible for what happened to the U.S. housing market and financial system in 2008. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to short sell (no pun intended) all the Special Purpose Vehicle sponsors, CDO asset managers, investors, and ratings agencies who, for at least five years, worked so hard to collapse the system.