This past March, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the finance ministers of the eurozone, shocked the markets with seemingly off-the-cuff comments suggesting that the Cyprus banking solution will, “serve as a model for dealing with future banking crises.”1 Depositors across Europe took a collective gasp of horror – could banks possibly confiscate depositors’ funds in a form of daylight robbery? Indeed they could, and last week the Bank for International Settlements (“BIS”), the Central Bank's Central Bank, published what we have referred to as ‘the template’; a blueprint outlining the steps to handle the failure of a major bank and the conditions to be met before ‘bailing-in’ deposits.
Dare 'Ye Test the Analysis To Ascertain It's Virility? Madness, I say! Sheer, Utter Madness! In other words - SYSTEMIC RISK is here, NOW!
We first discussed the possibility of state and local governments using eminent domain to 'save us' from further housing issues a year ago but now the NY Fed has gone one step further with an academic-based justification for why this process is not a "zero-sum-game" and will render all stakeholders better off. We can hear echoes of "trust us" in this commentary as the authors explain how multiple valuation methods will be used to ascertain "fair-value" - which has always worked so well in the past - and that we have "little to fear" from the resultant long-term contraction in liquidity or credit as bubbles can only inflate during times of easy credit availability (and that will never happen!) Paying for all this? Don't worry - resources to fund purchases of loans/liens can be raised from public, private sources or a combination of the two. It seems to us that MBS holders will not be happy, consumers hurt as mortgage costs would rise (this 'risk' has to be priced in), and taxpayers unhappy as this is yet another transfer payment scheme to bailout underwater loans.
That things in Greece are hopeless and getting worse is an understatement. With unemployment levels off the charts, the pension and retirement systems effectively gone and every able-bodied individual (what little remains of them) moving to the shadow economy which now accounts for 24% of GDP, there are few incentives for people to remain on payrolls, pay taxes and otherwise grow the economy via conventional channels. As a result, instead of an improvement in the economy despite all Greek foreign debt now having been forgiven courtesy of its recent conversion to perpetual Zero Coupons, not even during the depths of the recent economic collapse in late 2011 and early 2012 has the economic collapse been as bad. Kathimerini reports that figures released by ELSTAT on Friday showed GDP at 37.7 billion euros in the period from January to March 2013 – the lowest quarterly GDP since 2000.
A harbinger of things to come in other markets
The topic of the IMF's idiocy - unquestioned here following years and years and years of absolutely horrific forecasts, not to mention charts like this one courtesy of the Troika, of whom the IMF is a proud member has been widely covered in the past. However, while in the past we have attributed to stupidity all the faults of the Angela Mozilla Christine Lagarde-headed organization, we never had the factual backing to also invoke malice, lies and manipulation. Now, we can.
France and Italy are fighting against ambitious plans by the ECB to basically 'externally audit' 140 banks across the EU representing 80% of Europe's banking assets. The implementation of the project (by the head of financial stability at the central bank) appears to have two main drivers. First, to understand which banks' balance sheets are inhibiting lending (and why); and second, to ensure there is clarification on taxpayer-funded bailouts versus shareholders and depositors taking losses first. As Zeit reports, it seems the ECB appears to be questioning the reliability of the banks own figures.
- National Security Advisor Tom Donilon resigning, to be replaced by Susan Rice - Obama announcement to follow
- Japan's Abe targets income gains in growth strategy (Reuters), Abe unveils ‘third arrow’ reforms (FT) - generates market laughter and stock crash
- Amazon set to sell $800m in ads (FT) - personal tracking cookie data is valuable
- 60 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track (BBG) and yet have rarely been more optimistic
- Jefferson County, Creditors Reach Deal to End Bankruptcy (BBG)
- Turks clash with police despite deputy PM's apology (Reuters)
- Rural US shrinks as young flee for the cities (FT)
- Australia holds steady on rate but may ease later (MW)
- The Wonk With the Ear of Chinese President Xi Jinping (WSJ)
- Syrian army captures strategic border town of Qusair (Reuters)
Bulls and Bears. It’s all about predicting when that upturn or that downswing in the market is going to take place and when you need to sell or buy that stock to hit the jackpot and make the millions. People have been doing it for centuries and that doesn’t look like it is going to stop right now. There have been dozens of financial crises over the centuries and each of them has had an effect on the lives of people to varying degrees.
Following the State's takeover of Detroit's finances in March, it seems the end is growing 'nigh'er for the troubled city. According to the WSJ, Kevyn Orr, Detroit's emergency manager, plans to call unions and creditors to a meeting in mid-June to lay the groundwork for a bankruptcy within a matter of months. The meeting is designed to restructure the long-struggling city's liabilities of over $17bn and is an attempt to "have a mature and sober discussion" of repayment terms following its delayed payment in April of $226 million on pensions and other obligations. Several unions said they are willing to come to the table, but believe "it's a scare tactic." Up to now, Gov. Snyder and Detroit elected officials have said they want to avoid using bankruptcy (Detroit would be the biggest muni filing ever) to clean up the city's mess. But in recent days, their positions have softened, adding that, "I don't want to go to bankruptcy, but I do know that it is a strong possibility." Mr. Orr's office confirmed it was evaluating the potential sale of prized assets such as the artwork at the Detroit Institute of Art, a collection potentially worth billions.
Over the past few months we have explained in detail just how 'frothy' the credit market has become. Probably the most egregious example of this exuberance is the resurgence in covenant-lite loans to record levels. It seems lenders are so desperate to get some yield that they are willing to give up any and all protections just to be 'allowed' to invest in the riskiest of risky credits. With credit having enjoyed an almost uninterrupted one-way compression since the crisis, momentum and flow has taken over any sense of risk management - but perhaps, just perhaps, Sallie-Mae's corporate restructuring this week will remind investors that high-yield credit has a high-yield for a reason. The lender's decision to create a 'good-student-lender / bad-student-lender' and saddle the $17.9bn bondholders with the unit to be wound-down, while as Bloomberg notes, the earnings, cash flow, and equity of the newly formed SLM Bank will be moved out of bondholders’ reach. Bonds have dropped 10-15% on this news - considerably more than any reach-for-yield advantage would benefit and we wonder if these kind of restructurings will slow the inexorable rise in protection-free credit.
In the 15th century, the highest standard of living in the world belonged to China. Places like Nanjing had reached the pinnacle of civilization with incredibly modern infrastructure, robust economies, substantial international trade, great healthcare, and a rising middle class. If you had told a Chinese merchant at the time that, over the course of the next several hundred years, global primacy would shift to Europe (and a relatively unknown American continent), you would have been laughed at. It was simply unthinkable given how advanced China was over the west. And yet, it happened. Ironically, the tables are turning yet again; in total objectivity, the patient is beyond cure at this point… and the math is quite simple. Nations typically enter this vicious cycle once they start having to borrow money just to pay interest on what they already owe. The US is already way past this point.
Does it really make any sense at all that Bernanke would leave gold to trade in an open and transparent market? Hardly. Consider. The Fed has conjured multiple trillions of digital dollars out thin air in the last five years. These efforts have propped up the Treasury market, the domestic TBTF banks, the foreign TBTF banks, the ECB, the BOE, every European sovereign bond market, the RMBS market, the CMBS market, the equity market, the housing market and the entire industrial and soft commodity complexes, to name a few. Since the price of gold we see on our Bloomberg screens is set via derivatives and overwhelmingly settled in USD, the ability for central banks and bullion banks to manipulate the price of gold is way too easy. All the bullion banks have to do is coordinate (as in LIBOR), sell in size and punish anyone in their way. Take losses? No problem, more fiat can be conjured post-haste. So long as no one is taking physical delivery, the band(k) plays on. (Actually, physical demand delivery IS becoming a major new problem for the banks but this is a topic for a different note.) A quickly rising gold price upsets this fiat-engineered, centrally planned, non-market based recovery. Gold left to its’ own devices would signal the unwinding the rehypothecated world of shadow banking where latent monetary inflation goes to summer (think of it as the monetary Hamptons where only the Wall Street elite get to play). Most importantly, it would signal a huge lack of faith in the US dollar. A currency backed by nothing more than faith in central banking.
Over a year ago we wrote "How The Fed's Visible Hand Is Forcing Corporate Cash Mismanagement" in which we explained that due to ZIRP, management teams are left with just two (very shareholder-friendly) capital allocation choices: stock buybacks and dividends, to the detriment of such much more long-term critical uses of funds as capital expenditures, and to a lesser extent M&A. So far, this observation has proven spot on with buybacks (most of which using leverage to arb the record low cost of debt, notably in the case of Apple) dominating cash allocation decisions. However, there is a key drawback to this strategy: corporate assets whose age has hit all time highs across the globe. Naturally, this is a critical issue in a world in which the return on assets is now rapidly declining as seen in two years of deteriorating profit margins, and in which as much utility has been extracted as possible from an asset base which in many cases is well beyond its functional age. Logically, more and more companies will have no choice but to reasses capital deployment and in the coming months formerly very shareholder friendly companies will have no choice but to redeploy cash from dividends and buyback and to long-ignored capex once more. We bring this up because moments ago Dole Food just provided the missing piece to this capital allocation puzzle.
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