The record bank lending binge “not evidence of an economic recovery.” Instead, they’re fretting about the greatest credit bubble in history.
what will make the Ukraine restructuring fascinating is if the "activist" bondholder investors, aka vultures, aka holdouts, are not your usual hedge funds, but none other than the Kremlin, which after accumulating a sufficient stake to scuttle any prenegotiated, voluntary transaction can demand virtually anything from Kiev in order to allow the country to make the required adjustments on its bonds to avoid an outright sovereign default. Because who else can't wait for Putin Capital Management LP?
Francine Lacqua (Interviewer): Jim, you also have this new book out, right, saying "The Death of Money" and this basically argues that if a number of things come together, we could have financial warfare, deflation, hyperinflation, market collapse. And yet the markets are merrily going along. Are we in a fictitious world?
"as a businessman, I’m thrilled... never dreamed we'd [borrow so cheaply] at artificial rates... it's Nirvana... unless you look at the truth of the matter and the impact it has on your customers and your employees... that’s a much darker story... for every businessman in America and any economist that has their heads screwed on right, it’s an ominous situation... But look at it from a consumers’ point of view or a working person’s point of view, who’s paying for all this cheap money? Well, right now, the Fed is. I thought Bernie Madoff went to jail for that."
This time is different - check; Moral Hazard - check; Easy Money - check; Overblown growth stories - check; No valuation anchor - check; Conspicuous consumption - check; Ponzi finance - check... and, of course, Irrational exuberance: check!
This eruption of late cycle bubble finance hardly needs comment. Below are highlights from a Bloomberg Story detailing the recent surge of leveraged recaps by the big LBO operators. These maneuvers amount to piling more debt on already heavily leveraged companies, but not to fund Capex or new products, technology or process improvements that might give these debt mules an outside chance of survival over time. No, the freshly borrowed cash from a leveraged recap often does not even leave the closing conference room - it just gets recycled out as a dividend to the LBO sponsors who otherwise hold a tiny sliver of equity at the bottom of the capital structure. This is financial strip-mining pure and simple - and is a by-product of the Fed’s insane repression of interest rates.
Given our understanding that the number of large avalanches is positively correlated to the number of small avalanches, it seems pretty clear that (as Nanex and Zerohedge has been saying) the damaged market microstructure is mirrored in the increasing number of flash crashes since Reg NMS. Unfortunately, our murky understanding of how the microstructure causes the macrostructural changes can be used by the regulatory authorities to avoid investigation. They can't see a smoking gun. Accordingly, our modest proposal for dealing with HFT is this--nothing. Don't bust trades--let them stand. We'd be curious to see the response of the various Ivy-League endowment funds and pension funds when they suffer brutal, near-instantaneous, multi-billion-dollar losses. How would real companies, producing real products, react to a sudden monkey-hammering of their stock price, especially if it triggered debt covenants? Maybe they would all exit the market en masse. It might even force a real change.
It is widely known that Russia is owed billions by Ukraine for already-delivered gas (as we noted earlier, leaving Gazprom among the most powerful players in this game). It is less widely know that Russia also hold $3b of UK law bonds which, as we explained in detail here, are callable upon certain covenants that any IMF (or US) loan bailout will trigger. Russia has 'quasi' promised not to call those loans. It is, until now, hardly known at all (it would seem) that China is also owed $3bn, it claims, for loans made for future grain delivery to China. It would seem clear from this action on which side of the 'sanctions' fence China is sitting.
While most understand that Ukraine owes Russia a few billion here or there for its energy bills that are past due, there is a more concerning issue. The Ukraine owes $3 billion to Russia in bonds that have been issued under UK law. One of the stipulations of the bonds is that if the Ukraine's debt-to-GDP ratio should exceed 60%, the bonds will become immediately callable. Once the Ukraine gets funding from the IMF, this is of course going to happen right away – its debt-to-GDP ratio will then most definitely exceed 60%, so the first $3 billion of any aid the Ukraine receives in the form of loans will right away flow into Russia's coffers. The American and European tax cows will no doubt be thrilled.
For the second night in a row, China, and specifically its currency rate which saw the Yuan weaken once more, preoccupied investors - and certainly those who had bet on endless strenghtening of the Chinese currency - however this time it appeared more "priced in, and after trading as low as 2000, the SHCOMP managed to close modestly green, which however is more than can be said about the Nikkei which ended the session down 0.5%. Still, the USDJPY was firmly supported by the 102.00 "fundamental" fair value barrier and as a result equity futures, which had to reallign from tracking the AUDUSD to the old faithful Yen carry, have been propped up once more and are set to open at all time highs. If equities fail to breach the record barrier for the third time in a row and a selloff ensues after the open in deja vu trading, it will be time to watch out below if only purely for technical reasons.
• the risk of runs and asset fire sales in repurchase (repo) markets;
• excessive credit risk-taking and weaker underwriting standards;
• exposure to duration risk in the event of a sudden, unanticipated rise in interest rates;
• exposure to shocks from greater risk-taking when volatility is low;
• the risk of impaired trading liquidity;
• spillovers to and from emerging markets;
• operational risk from automated trading systems, including high-frequency trading; and
• unresolved risks associated with uncertainty about the U.S. fiscal outlook.
Of the 8 "most important ever" FOMC decisions in 2013, this one is undisputedly, and without doubt, the 8th. As Jim Reid summarizes, what everyone wonders is whether today’s decision by the FOMC will have a bearing on a few last-minute Xmas presents around global financial markets. No taper and markets probably breathe a sigh of relief and the feel-good factor might turn that handheld game machine into a full-blown PS4 by Xmas day. However a taper now might just take the edge off the festivities and leave a few presents on the shelves. Given that the S&P 500 has pretty much flat-lined since early-mid November in spite of better data one would have to say that some risk of tapering has been priced in but perhaps not all of it. Alternatively if they don’t taper one would expect markets to see a pretty decent relief rally over the rest of the year. So will it be Santa or Scrooge from the Fed tonight at 2pm EST?
Malodorous taper emanations and bankruptcies are a toxic mix for munis
"In some stocks," Starwood Capital's Barry Sternlicht warns, "we are seeing irrational exuberance with silly valuations." The outspoken asset manager warns that the signs are coming from the credit markets of "silly debt deals" with no covenants - which is helping equities melt-up but is a sign of a bubble. Perhaps his answer to what the Fed will do and when is the most succinct (and likely accurate) summation of the current idiocy, "very little and never," as the anchor grinningly suggests how great higher stock prices are for 'investors' before Sternlicht exclaims that may be true for the minority who hold stocks, "enjoy it is an investor," he suggests, "but don't love it as an American." Sternlicht goes on to address the dysfunctional political class and the Fed's enabling of that to continue as well as where the real estate bubbles are in the US.