"One of my favourite comedians, Eddie Izzard, has a rebuttal that I find most compelling. He points out that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people, but so do monkeys if you give them guns.” This is akin to my view of financial models. Give a monkey a value at risk (VaR) model or the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) and you’ve got a potential financial disaster on your hands." - James Montier, May 6
It would seem, just as during the crisis in 2008/9, that now might be an opportune time to push for 'improvement' in how banks are regulated (and more importantly how the instruments they trade in colossal size are priced and marked-to-market). Rick Santelli believes now has never been a better time but as his guest Tim Backshall of Capital Context notes, regulation of the CDS market can be summed up in one sentence "Get Them On Exchange". Something we have been saying for years (and has been tried before) but with dealers holding all the keys (to market-making) and exchanges cowering for fear of losing clients, we remain less optimistic. Santelli and Backshall critically address the complicity of banks, regulators, analysts, and The Fed in giving 'banks the benefit of the doubt' with regard their use of the bottomless pit of capital they implicitly have but what is more important is for the hordes of sell-side analysts and buy-side sheeple to understand just what this JPM debacle exposes about bank risk (VaR is useless), bank transparency (mark-to-model or worse is widespread), and bank valuation (traditional Price/Book metrics have no merit anymore).
While everyone's attention is focused on Dimon-related puns and trying to comprehend what actually happened at JPM (while at the same time pretending to be an expert in CDO trading models and VaR), UBS' Art Cashin provides some 'fact is better than fiction' on Greece (ah yes the other tempest in a teapot). Between the PASOK defense minister's money-laundering charges and the fact that British bookies won't take any more bets on Greece exiting the Euro (which given no CDS market has started on GGB2s seems to have become the market of choice for that trade), it seems, as the ever-prescient father-of-fermentation notes that "Europe still lurks".
Back in the middle of March, when all was sunshine and unicorns in the post-LTRO world of recovery and another sustainable recovery, we were vociferous in our noting that nothing has been fixed and LTRO3 is not coming. Sure enough, here we are a few weeks later and the encumbering stigma that we were the first to point out (and call Draghi out on) is now wider than at any time since the LTRO program began with the banks that took LTRO loans now trading wide of pre-LTRO levels (fully stigmatized despite all that extra liquidity). Today saw the Stigma spread between LTRO and non-LTRO banks jump its most in 2 months to over 160bps (its highest in almost six months). There is however a troubling conundrum facing the ECB. The banks that need another LTRO (or liquidity) no longer have performing collateral to pledge and other banks that would like liquidity will not take it since they now understand the encumbrance and stigma that is attached to that decision. The ECB is snookered (and so is it any wonder that Draghi is playing for time) and perhaps this is why we are seeing the EUR leak lower against the USD as markets anticipate some more direct monetization mandate-busting action by the ECB (shifting the Fed/ECB balance and implicitly the flow between the two that we have also pointed out as critical). Either way, there is no LTRO3 coming anytime soon and together with this morning's jumps in liquidity funding costs, the vicious circles are ramping up again in Europe.
The last two weeks have seen the market's perception of the risk of Europe's 'firewall' rise at its fastest rate in six months (the peak of the crisis). At 142bps wider than Bunds, EFSF bonds now trade at their widest in three months and look set to break out to peak-crisis levels. We are sure the Japanese will still back-up-the-truck at the next issuance of self-referential ponzi bonds, but not only is the credit risk of this staggering CDO rising fast, as Bloomberg notes, the market's anticipation of the PPCs (Partial Protection Certificates), that - akin to CDS - provide an uncollateralized protection for 'some' of the potential losses investors may face in buying sovereign debt at issuance, is dreary at best and "not something that appears immediately hugely attractive". CDS already trade on these bonds and the only willing players taking advantage of that market in size are the basis traders currently; as real money "will buy peripheral bonds outright, because they’re attractive enough, or they won’t buy them at all, and financial engineering [is not] necessarily going to change that dynamic.” Just as we have again and again pointed out, the reality is that investors have seen through these self-guaranteed and 'irrelevantly convoluted' attempts to kick the can and Draghi's rejection of the IMF-Geithner calls for more crisis-fighting (as noted by Bloomberg this evening) - arguing that they have done enough by cutting rates and issuing bank loans, perhaps reflects a Europe that knows it is on the brink. This was further reinforced by the Bundesbank's Joachim Nagel, who, in a moment of sublime reality-awareness, ruled out any direct EFSF 'help' to the banks "as that would pass on the risk of a bank bailout to all European taxpayers" - but why does Geithner care so much - we thought US banks were 'safe' and unexposed to Europe (eh Jamie?).
There is a lot of talk about IG9 these days. We think the JPMorgan 'Iksil' story has a lot more to do with tranches than with outright selling of the index. Noone knows what exactly is going on, but we think selling tranches without delta explains far more than just selling the index, given the size and leverage. Critically, in the end it is all speculation as what (if any) trade they have on but if our belief on this being a tranche exposure (for the thesis reasons we explain) then the explanation is far less scary.
Do you think the US will always and forever be able to pay for our over-bloated military-industrial complex and our wars of choice? Do you think the federal housing agencies will always and forever be able to subsidize the real estate industry with money losing, non-economic mortgage loans? Do you think the government will always and forever be able to pay on the promises they've made regarding Social Security, Medicare and Medicade? Do you think the government will always and forever be able to extend debt-enslaving, subsidized student loans to anyone with a pulse? Do you think the fiat ponzi central planners at the Fed will always and forever be able to manipulate the Treasury curve to whatever levels the Oracles of Delphi decide? If you answer yes to the above, ask yourself this: how would all of these things be affected if the average interest rate paid by the US was to rise to 5%? At today's debt level of $15.6 trillion, the interest expense would be approximately $780 billion or about 35% of total government revenues. Welcome to the United States of Greece. Next stop, bankruptcy.
Earlier today we listened with bemused fascination as Blythe Masters explained to CNBC how JPMorgan's trading business is "about assisting clients in executing, managing, their risks and ensuring access to capital so they can make the kind of large long-term investments that are needed in the long run to expand the supply of commodities." You know - provide liquidity. Like the High Freaks. We were even ready to believe it, especially when Blythe conveniently added that JPM has a "matched book" meaning no net prop exposure, since the opposite would indicate breach of the Volcker Rule. ...And then we read this: "A JPMorgan Chase & Co. trader of derivatives linked to the financial health of corporations has amassed positions so large that he’s driving price moves in the multi-trillion dollar market, according to traders outside the firm." Say what? A JPMorgan trader has a prop (not flow, not client, not non-discretionary) position so big it is moving the entire market? And we are talking hundreds of billions of CDS notional. But... that would mean everything Blythe said is one big lie... It would also mean that JPMorgan is blatantly and without any regard for legislation, ignoring the Volcker rule, which arrived in the aftermath of Merrill Lynch doing precisely this with various CDO and credit indexes, and "moving the market" only to blow itself up and cost taxpayers billions when the bets all LTCMed. But wait, it gets better: "In some cases, [the trader] is believed to have “broken” the index -- Wall Street lingo for the market dysfunction that occurs when a price gap opens up between the index and its underlying constituents." So JPMorgan is now privately accused of "breaking" the CDS Index market, courtesy of its second to none economy of scale and fear no reprisal for any and all actions, and in the process causing untold losses to, you guessed it, its clients, but when it comes to allegations of massive manipulation in the precious metals market, why Blythe will tell you it is all about "assisting clients in executing, managing, their risks." Which client would that be - Lehman, or MFGlobal? Perhaps it is time for a follow up interview, Ms Masters to clarify some of these outstanding points?
Credit Suisse Publicly Announces Reopening Of TVIX Share Issuance, Hours After 'Private' Leak Crushes TVIXSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/22/2012 22:25 -0400
For those curious why it is that the TVIX experienced a 50% plunge earlier today, as described here, perhaps the question should be directed to the SEC who may be better suited to answer just who, when and why had advance knowledge of Credit Suisse's announcement, after the close, that it would "reopen issuance of the TVIX." And since this is a rhetorical question, perhaps a better one is why does one participate in a market in which the fine print is always ignored, and is always used against the retail investor. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course - after all caveat emptor. Especially when none other than one of Ben Bernanke's favorite scholars on shadow banking (i.e., forced complexity) Gary Gorton said the following: "Liquidity requires symmetric information, which is easiest to achieve when everyone is ignorant. This determines the design of many securities..." Alas, when it comes to novel instruments such as levered ETFs that work as a closed end mutual fund hybrid, except when they don't, the only one ignorant is you, dear retail investor. Cost to your P&L: 50% in one day. Finally if for some inconceivable reason that doesn't work, just call the Credit Suisse ETN desk at 212 538 7333.
While SEC's rejection of a proposal by a group of religious institutions shareholders requiring an independent examination of Goldman's executive pay could be interpreted as a victory, it doesn't make the issue go away for Goldman
Continuing our series of charts worth a thousand words (first one here), below courtesy of Credit Suisse's William Porter we present the Euro Area as if it were a giant CDO. It should answer most outstanding questions.
And not because his Rule doesn't have teeth.
- Obama Administration Said Set to Release Corporate Tax-Rate Plan Today (Bloomberg, WSJ)
- Greece races to meet bail-out demands (FT)
- IAEA ‘disappointed’ in Iran nuclear talks (FT)
- Hilsenrath: Fed Writes Sweeping Rules From Behind Closed Doors (WSJ)
- Fannie-Freddie Plan, Sweden FSA, Trader Suspects, CDO Lawsuit: Compliance (Bloomberg)
- Bank of England’s Bean Says Greek Deal Doesn’t End Disorderly Outcome Risk (Bloomberg)
- Greece Second Bailout Plan an ‘Important Step,’ Treasury’s Brainard Says (Bloomberg)
- Shanghai Eases Home Purchase Restrictions (Bloomberg)
While his diagnosis of the balance sheet recessionary outbreak that is sweeping global economies (including China now he fears) is a useful framework for understanding ZIRP's (and monetary stimulus broadly) general inability to create a sustainable recovery, his one-size-fits-all government-borrow-and-spend to infinity (fiscal deficits during balance sheet recessions are good deficits) solution is perhaps becoming (just as he said it would) politically impossible to implement. In his latest missive, the Nomura economist does not hold back with the blame-bazooka for the mess we are in and face in 2012. Initially criticizing US and now European bankers and politicians for not recognizing the balance sheet recession, Koo takes to task the ECB and European governments (for implementing LTRO which simply papers over the cracks without solving the underlying problem of the real economy suggesting bank capital injections should be implemented immediately), then unloads on the EBA's 9% Tier 1 capital by June 2012 decision, and ends with a significant dressing-down of the Western ratings agencies (and their 'ignorance of economic realities'). While believing that Greece is the lone profligate nation in Europe, he concludes that Germany should spend-it-or-send-it (to the EFSF) as capital flight flows end up at Berlin's gates. Given he had the holidays to unwind, we sense a growing level of frustration in the thoughtful economist's calm demeanor as he realizes his prescription is being ignored (for better or worse) and what this means for a global economy (facing deflationary deleveraging and debt minimization) - "It appears as though the world economy will remain under the spell of the housing bubble collapse that began in 2007 for some time yet" and it will be a "miracle if Europe does not experience a full-blown credit contraction."