Better stock up on the Depends now.
Addressing his perception of lessons learned from the financial crisis, Ben Bernanke is speaking this afternoon on poor risk management and shadow banking vulnerabilities - all of which remain obviously as we continue to draw attention to. However, more worrisome for the junkies is the total lack of QE3 chatter in his speech. While he does note the words 'collateral' and 'repo' the proximity of the words 'Shadow, Institutions, & Vulnerabilities' are awkwardly close.
The Fed's currency swap with the ECB is nothing more than a covert bailout for European banks. Philipp Bagus of Mises.com explains how the USD-funding crisis occurred among European banks inevitably leading to the Fed assuming the role of international lender of last resort - for which US taxpayers are told to be lucky happy since this free-lunch from printing USD and sending them overseas provides an almost risk-free benefit in the form of interest on the swap. Furthermore, the M.A.D. defense was also initiated that if this was not done, it would be far worse for US markets (and we assume implicitly the economy). The Fed's assurances on ending the bailout policy should it become imprudent or cost-benefits get misaligned seems like wishful thinking and as the EUR-USD basis swap starts to deteriorate once again, we wonder just how long before the Fed's assumed role of bailing out the financial industry and governments of the world by debasing the dollar will come home to roost. As Bagus concludes: "Fed officials claim to know that the bailout-swaps are basically a free lunch for US taxpayers and a prudent thing to do. Thank God the world is in such good hands." and perhaps more worryingly "The highest cost of the Fed policy, therefore, may be liberty in Europe" as the Euro project is enabled to play out to its increasingly centralized full fiscal union endgame.
Unfortunately, nobody in the Treasury seems to want to deal with the mess at Ally Financial before Election Day. But the question is whether Ally can wait until then.
A few weeks ago when discussing the imminent debt ceiling breach, and the progression of US debt/GDP into the 100%+ ballpark, we reminded readers that in February S&P said it could downgrade the US again in as soon as 6 months if there was no budget plan. Not only is there no budget plan, but the US is about to have its debt ceiling fiasco repeat all over as soon in as September. Which means another downgrade from S&P is imminent, and continuing the theme of deja vu 2011, the late summer is shaping up for a major market sell off. Minutes ago, Egan Jones just reminded us of all of this, after the only rating agency that matters, just downgraded the US from AA+ to AA, with a negative outlook.
Blythe Masters On The Blogosphere, Silver Manipulation, Gold-Axed Clients And Doing The "Wrong" ThingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/05/2012 13:53 -0500
For all those who have long been curious what the precious metals "queen" thinks about allegations involving her and her fimr in gold and silver manipulation, how JPMorgan is positioned in the precious metals market, and how she views the fringe elements of media, as well as JPMorgan's ethical limitations to engaging in 'wrong' behavior, the answers are all here.
You don't spend over $1 trillion in nine months unless something very, very bad is coming down the pike. That something "BAD" is the collapse of Europe's banking system: a $46 trillion sewer of toxic PIIGS debt that is leveraged at more than 26 to 1 (Lehman was leveraged at 30 to 1 when it went under).
- Portugal Says Some Town Halls May Need to Restructure Their Debt (Bloomberg)
- Draghi Scotches ECB Exit Talk as Spain Keeps Crisis Alive (Bloomberg)
- China PBOC Injects Net CNY25 Bln Into Money Market This Week (WSJ)
- BoE warns on mortgage limits (FT)
- Apple investigating new iPad WiFi issues, tells AppleCare to replace affected units (9to5Mac)
- Juppé promises French hard line in EU (FT)
- ECB liquidity fuels high stakes hedging (FT)
- Fed’s Lacker Says Markets Saw Odds of Policy Easing as Too High (Bloomberg)
- Japan minister to ask for nuclear reactor restart: media (Reuters)
Central Banks' extreme interventionist policies (whether direct money-printing or indirect subordination of existing risk-takers) has left an investing public with a very different risk-reward environment (and very different forecast distributions for future outcomes) as we pointed out earlier. As Matt King of Citigroup notes, the 'risk-on risk-off' environment is here to stay meaning the traditional safety of bonds now offers even less upside and more downside (thanks to subordination) and equities or higher-beta more upside (thanks to central banker puts under asset markets). This helps explain the portfolio-rebalancing effect of QE et al. However, this leads to a focus on high-beta momentum with a growing chasm between price and value - and more likelihood of catastrophic loss when risk-goes-off (as liquidity spigots are closed however temporarily). Efficient frontiers are now not so efficient with marginal returns now perceived as accelerating for incremental risk-taking as the Fed has your back. This means market-cap weighted indices will naturally favor the highest-beta (much more volatile) names that will suffer the most when risk re-appears - so focus on equal-weighted or fundamental-weighted indices for risk-balanced-return. Trying to be long the tails is key as central bankers repress normal investors away from core safety leaving behind the precipice of over-invested, over-risk-stuffed momentum chasers holding the bag.
While the LTROs were supposed to bring European banks back from the edge of insolvency with a warming blast of liquidity, the sad truth, now that the exuberance of fresh money-printing has faded, is that the unintended consequence has crammed down the senior unsecured bank debt holders to the lowest of the low. This realization, that we have discussed a number of times - most recently here - that nothing has been solved - as the LTRO Stigma unintended consequence, is starting to leak back into broader risk premia as now the contagion risks are back on the table and even non-LTRO-facing banks are seeing spreads increase as expectations of either broader forced cram-downs or interconnected vicious cycles rear their ugly head once again among European banks - and implicitly back onto European Sovereign balance sheets. Citigroup's Hans Lorenzen highlights four key reasons for the increasingly binary bifurcation that senior unsecured bank debt has become.
As Europe's exuberance from the LTROs fades (with Italian banks now negative YTD, Sovereigns wider than LTRO2 levels, and financials desparately divided by the LTRO Stigma) Jefferies David Zervos uncovers the sad reality that faces peripheral creditors and Northern Europeans - as we noted a month ago here. The 'success' of the LTRO monetization scheme (as opposed to EFSF/ESM transfer dabacles) is what enabled the Greek restructuring, and as Zervos notes, the losses that the big boys (Spain and Italy) need to take will not be taken via a haircut but a monetization as the number 1 rule is we must always assume that losses will be taken in a way that protects the large northern banks, northern jobs and most importantly Northern politicians. If the loss realization is not managed correctly (and losses there will be), then the ugly truth will escape but the North's large-scale vendor-financing scheme with the periphery will have to continue - even in the knoweldge that the debt will never get paid back.
The income and savings of Northern workers must be ploughed (directly or indirectly) into the rest-of-Europe or the entire structure becomes insolvent and the breaking of that social contract (that they will be looked after when they are old) will inevitably lead to revolt and nasty nationalist political forces being unleashed. The hope to avoid this is the 'wealth illusion' as the workers of the north can never be allowed to realize they have only 50% of their worth in reality. Ireland will be next on the loss-realization-monetization path but as we move from relatively small and containable sovereigns to the big-boys, the idea that Spain and Italy will roll over and accept a decade of austerity in exchange for a haircut is pure folly. These countries hold too much clout in the Eurozone and their threat of exit is a material threat to the northern jobs and hence northern politicians. The only way the northern politicians will be able to save face when it comes to Spain and Italy is through massive monetary policy accommodation. Inflation will rebalance Europe; but let's hope that the process of restating northern wealth and wage rates does not lead to revolt in the northern streets. The politicians will need to carefully execute this trade.
You have publicly gone on record with some off-the-wall assertions about the gold standard. What made you think you could get away with it? Your best strategy would have been to ignore gold. Although I concede that with the endgame of the regime of irredeemable paper money near, you might not be able to pretend that people aren’t talking and thinking about gold. You can’t win, Ben. In this letter I will address your claims and explain your errors so that the whole world can see them, even if you cannot.
World's Largest Solar Plant, With Second Largest Ever Department of Energy Loan Guarantee, Files For BankruptcySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/02/2012 19:14 -0500
Solyndra was just the appetizer. Earlier today, in what will come as a surprise only to members of the administration, the company which proudly held the rights to the world's largest solar power project, the hilariously named Solar Trust of America ("STA"), filed for bankruptcy. And while one could say that the company's epic collapse is more a function of alternative energy politics in Germany, where its 70% parent Solar Millennium AG filed for bankruptcy last December, what is relevant is that last April STA was the proud recipient of a $2.1 billion conditional loan from the Department of Energy, incidentally the second largest loan ever handed out by the DOE's Stephen Chu. That amount was supposed to fund the expansion of the company's 1000 MW Blythe Solar Power Project in Riverside, California. From the funding press release, "This project construction is expected to create over 1,000 direct jobs in Southern California, 7,500 indirect jobs in related industries throughout the United States, and more than 200 long-term operational jobs at the facility itself. It will play a key role in stimulating the American economy,” said Uwe T. Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Solar Trust of America and Executive Chairman of project development subsidiary Solar Millennium, LLC." Instead, what Solar Trust will do is create lots of billable hours for bankruptcy attorneys (at $1,000/hour), and a good old equity extraction for the $22 million DIP lender, which just happens to be NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, another "alternative energy" company which last year received a $935 million loan courtesy of the very same (and now $2.1 billion poorer) Department of Energy, which is also a subsidiary of public NextEra Energy (NEE), in the process ultimately resulting in yet another transfer of taxpayer cash to NEE's private shareholders.
In the first of two major bankruptcy stories du jour (the next one coming up shortly), we learn that AFA Foods, best known for being the maker of "pink slime", and a portfolio company of labor unions and Clinton afficionado Ron Burkle and his PE firm Yucaipa, has just filed for bankruptcy. The reason? The sudden public realization what pink slime is, and just how prevalent it is - perhaps it is best to think of it as the Bernie Madoff of the food industry - it was always there, yet it took a wholesale shift in public awareness and consciousness for the firm to realize it would have been prudent to come up with a slightly different name for its ground-beef product. As for whether or not the company is going to the pink sheets, well no. But one thing is certain: the management team is about to get a pink slip.
European cash equities are seen mixed as the market heads into the US session, with the DAX index the only bourse to trade higher at the midpoint of the European session. European markets were seeing some gains following the open after the weekend release of better than expected Chinese manufacturing data, however the main price action of the day occurred after some European press reports that the Bundesbank had stopped accepting sovereign bonds as collateral from Portugal, Ireland and Greece garnered attention, however the Bundesbank were quick to deny reports and state that it continues to accept all Eurozone sovereign bonds. Following the denial, participants witnessed a slight bounceback, but failed to push most markets into the green. Data releases from Europe so far have been varied, with outperformance seen in the UK Manufacturing PMI, beating expectations and recording its highest reading since May of 2011. However, the French manufacturing PMI came in below expectations, weighing on the CAC index as the session progresses. A further release from the Eurozone has shown February unemployment coming in alongside expectations recording a slight increase from January to 10.8%.