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.
"We're Stuck In An Escher Economy Until The Existing Structure Collapses And Is Rebuilt On Stronger Principles"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 11/09/2013 13:26 -0400
1. Even if the economy returns to full employment under existing policies, it won’t remain there after (and if) interest rates normalize.
2. Based on today’s debt and valuation levels (charts 8-9, for example), rising interest rates will have an even harsher effect than suggested by the 60 year history
3. Contrary to the establishment’s “sustainable recovery” narrative, the most plausible outcomes are: 1) interest rates normalize but this triggers another bust, or 2) interest rates remain abnormally low until we eventually experience the mother of all debt/currency crises.
We’re stuck in an Escher economy (see below), thanks to the impossibility of the establishment economic view, and this will remain the case until the existing structure collapses and is rebuilt on stronger policy principles.
Two weeks ago we first pointed out that as a result of the quiet creep in high grade leverage to fresh record high levels, the resurgence in PIK Toggle debt for LBOs and otherwise, means that the credit bubble is now worse than ever and that the next credit crisis will make 2007 seem like one big joke. Recall that nearly 80% of PIK issuers made a PIK election during the last downturn, "paying" by incurring even more debt and in the process resulting in huge impairments to those yield chasing "investors" who knew they were going to lose money but had no choice - after all, the "career risk." Subsequently, we quantified the explosion in covenant-lite loans - another indicator of a peak credit bubble market - as nearly double when compared to the last credit bubble of 2007 (whose aftermath the Fed, with a $3 trillion larger balance sheet, is still struggling to contain).
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.
Back in April, in a desperate scramble to raise liquidity courtesy of a hail mary Goldman syndicated term loan, we penned "Confused By What Is Going On At JCP? Here's The Pro Forma Cap Table And The Cliff Notes", where in addition to the obvious - that this is merely buying a few months for the melting icecube company which with every passing day is closer to a Chapter 11 (or 7) bankruptcy filing - we also laid out that what Goldman was doing was merely positioning itself to be at the top of the company's capital structure with a super secured and overcollateralized credit facility, through what is effectively a pre-petition DIP... As it turns out we only had to wait for five months before the same Goldman that raised the company's emergency liquidity term loan turned around and launched a vicious attack on the same company that paid it millions in dollars in underwriting fees. Specifically, what Goldman just did is write a report (perhaps one of the best bearish cross-asset investment theses we have seen to come out of the firm in a long time) in which it laid out, in a lucid and compelling manner, why JCP is doomed. The report is titled appropriately enough: "Initiate on JCP with Underperform: Looking for cash in the name"... and not finding it.
If the Fed was worried about 'froth' in the markets earlier in the year, then this chart should have them panicking. Of course, as Jim Bullard noted Friday, there is no bubble because everyone knows there is no bubble but judging by the massive surge in covenant-lite loan issuance, there is a bubble in forced demand for leveraged loans. At $188.7 billion, the 2013 issuance of these highly unsafe loans (which have seen huge inflows since the Fed started talking taper back in May) is almost double that of the peak of the last credit bubble in 2007 and is five times the size of 2012 YTD issuance at this time. As Reuters notes, Covenant-lite loans used to be reserved for stronger companies and credits, but are now so common in the U.S. leveraged loan market that investors are becoming wary of some credits with a full covenant package. With corporate leverage at all-time highs, what could go wrong?
The froth is back. As we noted yesterday, corporate leverage has never been higher - higher now than when the Fed warned of froth, and as the BIS (following their "party's over" rant 3 months ago) former chief economist now warns, "this looks like to me like 2007 all over again, but even worse." The share of "leveraged loans" or extreme forms of credit risk, used by the poorest corporate borrowers, has soared to an all-time high of 45% - 10 percentage points higher than at the peak of the crisis in 2007. As The Telegraph reports, ex-BIS Chief Economist William White exclaims, "All the previous imbalances are still there. Total public and private debt levels are 30pc higher as a share of GDP in the advanced economies than they were then, and we have added a whole new problem with bubbles in emerging markets that are ending in a boom-bust cycle." Crucially, the BIS warns, nobody knows how far global borrowing costs will rise as the Fed tightens or “how disorderly the process might be... the challenge is to be prepared." This means, in their view, "avoiding the tempatation to believe the market will remain liquid under stress - the illusion of liquidity."
The consequences of the Fed's decision tosses hand grenades into the wind with tumultuous reverberations. Shrapnel is ensuing. More blood will be spilt. Dominoes, anyone?