Debt Ceiling

Guess Who Continues To Not "Rotate" Out Of Treasurys And Into Stocks

Those who read our article on this topic at this time last week should already know the answer to this rhetorical question. Everyone else may be a little surprised to learn that at a time when every Primary Dealer's sales desk has been pushing what little is left of gullible investors into stocks because the "Great rotation out of bonds and into stocks is our Top trade of 2013" (source: [every sellside strategist]), just as these seem poised to tumble in a recreation of the August 2011 debt ceiling fiasco (as we have been warning for months), their holdings of these same boring old Treasurys once again rose in the latest week ending December 19, increasing by another $10 billion, and hit a fresh all time gross high of $146 billion. Judging by what is increasingly a rotation out of stocks and into bonds, the smart money - correction the only money remaining - appears positioned correctly once again.

Remember: always do what they do, not what they say.

The Only 3 Charts Needed To Understand The Fiscal Cliff Resolution Process

Arguing semantics over cuts here, taxes there, "we are close", etc. misses the entire premise of the entire political debacle that is now replaying in Washington. The simple fact of the matter is that our politicians will not cross the aisle, will not compromise, will not 'come together', will not 'rise above', will not 'think of the children' - until the market (that critical arbiter of everything that appears relevant to the elites) forces their hand. The following three charts should help clarify that for all market savants.

The World's Most Profitable Hedge Fund Is About To Make The US Treasury's Life Much Easier

We know its not Paulson, Ackman, or SAC; is it Dalio's Bridgewater? No, the world's most profitable private entity that is in business to generate profits via speculation in financial markets is, drum roll please, the Federal Reserve. Stone & McCarthy (SMRA) estimates the Fed will make around $90bn profits in 2012. Of this around $87.5bn will be remitted to the US Treasury - a new record high (quite helpful when one is trying to avoid a debt ceiling using 'extraordinary measures' though we assume this is already penciled in due to its consistency). Since 1947 the Federal Reserve has paid the Treasury roundly $975 bln, about 1/3 of which has been paid over the past 6 years. In other words, the cumulative Federal deficit since 1947 has been reduced by nearly $1 trillion since 1947 due to the repatriation of Fed earnings to the Treasury Department. SMRA estimates that this profitability, thanks to the spread between SOMA coupon income and IOER will likely lift the Fed's profitability to around $120bn in 2013, but a 1% rise in yields would translate into a $275bn loss.

Barack Is Back: The 2012 Season Of The Fiscal Cliff Soap Opera Is Finally Concluding

While the market will look with some last trace of hope to Obama's return from Hawaii to D.C. today, the reality is that even the mainstream media, which had so far gotten everything about the cliff spectacularly wrong (proving that sample polling and actual "predicting" are two very different things), is waking up and smelling the coffee. As Politico reports, "nearly all the major players in the fiscal cliff negotiations are starting to agree on one thing: A deal is virtually impossible before the New Year. Unlike the bank bailout in 2008, the tax deal in 2010 and the debt ceiling in 2011, the Senate almost certainly won’t swoop in and help sidestep a potential economic calamity, senior officials in both parties predicted on Wednesday. Hopes of a grand-bargain — to shave trillions of dollars off the deficit by cutting entitlement programs and raising revenue — are shattered. House Republicans already failed to pass their “Plan B” proposal. And now aides and senators say the White House’s smaller, fall-back plan floated last week is a non-starter among Republicans in Senate — much less the House. On top of that, the Treasury Department announced Wednesday that the nation would hit the debt limit on Dec. 31, and would then have to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid exhausting the government’s borrowing limit in the New Year."

US Treasury "Rises Above" The Debt Ceiling - Now What?

When Tim Geithner announced an hour ago that the US debt ceiling will officially be "risen above" on December 31, he stated that there are approximately two months in which the Treasury can take emergency measures to delay the actual debt ceiling breach, a moment in time which we believe will take place some time in March. Upon further reflection, with the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that will take place on January 1, the irony is that the debt ceiling extension may last materially longer due to a substantial reduction in the US budget deficit, potentially pushing the final threshold to as late April or even May which means the political theater is going to last for even longer than we expected - something which both parties now appear set to capitalize on as much as possible. So the question now is what are the options before Tim Geithner and what are the "emergency measures" the Treasury take to delay the inevitable moment when one of three things happens: i) the US hikes its ceiling, ii) the US begins living within its means, iii) the US defaults on its debt. Since the third, and certainly second are impossible, and since the debt ceiling theater is something we all lived through as recently as 2011, here is the article we penned in January 2011, when that long ago debt ceiling of a mere $14.3 trillion was about to be breached, and whose ultimate rise required a 20% market plunge together with an S&P downgrade of the then pristine US AAA rating (an event which Tim Geithner had said shortly prior there is no risk of ever occuring), answering precisely this question.

Geithner - US To Hit Debt Ceiling On December 31

Just because the Fiscal Cliff was not enough...

  • GEITHNER SAYS U.S. WILL REACH STATUTORY DEBT LIMIT ON DEC. 31
  • GEITHNER: WILL USE `EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES' TO AVOID DEBT LIMIT
  • TREASURY: SPECIAL MEASURES TO MAKE $200 BLN  ROOM UNDER LIMIT
  • GEITHNER: $200 BLN TO LAST TWO MONTHS IN `NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES'
  • GEITHNER: TAX, SPENDING `UNCERTAINTY' MAKES DURATION NOT CLEAR
  • GEITHNER SAYS ALL MEASURES HAVE BEEN USED IN PRIOR IMPASSES
  • GEITHNER OUTLINES PLANS IN LETTER TO SENATE MAJORITY LEADER

So since America's dysfunctional congress failed to "rise above" the Fiscal Cliff, it at least succeeded to "rise above" the debt ceiling. One out of two is not too bad...

"It Is Indeed, A Fearful Place"

Still the slosh of new money is there. The compression in the bond markets will continue for a time. America will join Europe in her recession and the Continent will be buoyed by the sharing of the misery. It will certainly not be the best of times and most probably not the worst of times but it will be a time that is not marked by much joy or good fortune either. I predict that anger will swell, that people will feel betrayed and that the social conscience of the nation will be frayed by what has been promised and cannot be delivered. The spirit of the season may well call; “Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” but it will neither be “rest” nor “merry” as the New Year begins.

At Least One Market Is Open

Aside from the occasional deranged FX algo which today has decided to take out all its pent up binary anger on the GBPUSD, everything else today is closed. Everything, except, of course, for InTrade which come holiday, rain or apocalypse, is a true OTC market and is open all the time 24/7, non stop. Of particular interest is InTrade's market on "The US debt limit to be raised before midnight ET 31 Dec 2012" which moments ago once again came closer to reflecting reality and not the clueless gibberish of "expert" political pundits, and plunged to a contract low 10.1% probability (and price) which considering the late stage in the game, and that at this point the Fiscal Cliff is beyond any 2012 resolution, let alone the debt ceiling, is 10.1% too high (as forecast here nearly two months ago). And like a true market, one can naked short on InTrade. So for all the habitual gamblers out there just itching for some global futures market to reopen somewhere: have at it (but mind the brief squeeze at the next appearance of the "we have a deal" rumor, only to be refuted by the sad political reality of this country moments later). 

Sentiment: Listless Traders Looking Forward To Abbreviated Rumor Day

As DB's Jim Reid summarizes, "it is fair to say that newsflow over the next 72 hours will be fairly thin before we head into a tense final few business days of the year." It is also fair to say, that the usual tricks of the new normal trade, such as the EUR and risk ramp as Europe walks in around 3 am, precisely what happened once again overnight to lift futures "off the lows", will continue working until it doesn't. In the meantime, the market is still convinced that some compromise will appear miraculously in the 2 trading sessions remaining until the end of the year, and a recession will be avoided even as talks now appear set to continue as far down as late March when the debt ceiling expiration, not cliff, will become the primary driving power for a resolution. That said, expect to start hearing rumors of a US downgrade by a major rating agency as soon as today: because the agenda is known all too well.

Guest Post: 'Sandy Effect' Boosts Economic Data

The slew of economic releases over the last couple of days have all had two things in common:  1) the data has been markedly improved which has given a silver lining to the economic storm clouds we have witnessed over the last several months; and 2) the fingerprint of Hurricane Sandy has been very visible.  This is not a surprise. The question that needs to be addressed, however, is whether these surges are sustainable in the months ahead?

How The Fiscal Cliff Talks Collapsed

The collapse of the Fiscal Cliff talks should come as no surprise to anyone (except, of course, for all those "expert" political commentators virtually all of whom saw a deal by December 31: a full list of names is forthcoming). The reason: a simple one - a House torn, polarized to a record extreme, and a political environment in which the two parties, in the aftermath of a presidential election humiliating to the GOP, reached unseen before antagonism toward each other. In this context, it was absolutely inevitable that America would see a replica of last summer's debt ceiling collapse, which mandated a market intervention, in the form of a crash, and the wipeout of hundreds of billions in wealth - sadly the only catalyst that both parties and their electorate, understand. We had prefaced this explicitly in early November when we said that "the lame duck congress will posture, prance and pout. And it is a certainty that in the [time] remaining it will get nothing done. Which means, that once again, it will be up to the market, just like last August, just like October of 2008, to implode and to shock Congress into awakening and coming up with a compromise of sorts." Which of course brought us to Thursday night's mini-TARP moment. With all that said, there are those forensic detectives who are addicted to every single political twist and turn, and who are curious just where and when the Fiscal Cliff talks broke down in the past week. In this regard, the WSJ provides a useful timeline.

The One Thing Everyone Is Forgetting About The Fiscal Cliff

While everyone is hypnotized by the melodramatic theater in D.C., it is worth reminding readers just what the one most important statement so far uttered by anyone on the topic of the Fiscal cliff is. That statement belongs to Chairman Bernanke, it was uttered during the December 12 Fed press conference when QE4EVA was announced, and is his response to Peter Cook from Bloomberg TV who asked "if the policy makers were not to agree to some sort of deficit deal by the end of this year and we were to go over the fiscal cliff, that the size of these asset purchases could indeed grow in response to that?' Bernanke's response: "if the economy actually went off the fiscal cliff, our assessment, the CBO’s assessment, outside forecasters, all think that that would have very significant adverse effects on the economy and on the unemployment rate. And so, on the margin, we would try to do what we could. We would perhaps increase a bit." And there you have it, and there goes any sense of urgency, at least until the real deadline in late March, when the Treasury will have tapped out the G-fund and can't extend the debt ceiling any more.

"Get to work, Mr. Chairman."

Twas The Last Obama Conference Before Cliffmas...

... and all through the collocated server house, GETCO algos were stirring, hoping (as this is the only "strategy" left) that maybe, just maybe, Obama can pull a unicorn out of his skittles-dispensing hat. He won't, and most likely we will get one last does of stern fingerpointing, harsh language and accusative condemnation of those wascaly wepublicans. But find out for yourselves in 15 short minutes, when the market may be closed, but futures will still be open, although at least subject to the limit down rule. Of course, if the news was good, it would have come before 4 pm...

Is The S&P Set To Test 1370 (Or 1150)?

We noted the VIX divergence (and most importantly the 14-month flatness of the term-structure - which is following the 'debt ceiling' path perfectly!) yesterday and pointed out how illiquid markets were. Critically, those that could were selling into strength and those that couldn't (due to size and illiquidity) bought protection. Overnight the flash crash recoupled S&P to VIX but this morning has seen more protecction buyers step in, driving VIX towards 20% (5 month highs). Given the recent correlations (and managers knowing full well they can't unwind their exposure into the cash market as the avalanche will be too large), VIX implies the S&P at around 1370. Interestingly, this level of S&P is also approximately what a 2% rally in the USD would imply (the FX implication we suggested yesterday of a failed cliff resolution in the short-term).

Quad Witching Cliff-faller

It may not be apparent immediately, but in the aftermath of last night's epic collapse in fiscal cliff negotiations, which incidentally was perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain and who experienced last summer's debt ceiling fiasco, which sadly excludes all paid political and financial - including sellside - commentators, all of whom expected a prompt resolution to this polarized issue as recently as a week ago, there is major behind the scenes panic. Because while banks would write profuse, long-winded essays to explain the logic and rationality of the "deal", now that they are all faced with adjusting their narrative the best they can come up with are two sentence fragments such as this one from Citi's Steven Englander "Problem is that it is the right wing of the Republican Party that wouldn’t give Boehner their support, making it less likely that he could win broad support among Republicans for a compromise with the White House. Also he will have to spend next couple of days negotiating with both his own party and the Democrats without knowing how much he can deliver." The answer: nothing at all. In fact as Scott Rigell said “I’m not sure the people who have been up here 20 or 30 years really understand what the next iteration of this process is”.  He is speaking for pretty much everyone else who has now been made a total fool by the Black Swan that is Congress. As a reminder a 3 month delay resolution assures a US recession, and a ~20% or so minimum correction in the stock market, which has been priced for absolute perfection for months, and which will once again have to be used by Wall Street as a means to get a consensus out of DC. Just as we predicted over a month ago. Finally while we may have avoided the Mayan apocalypse, we do have a quad witching and a NASDAQ rebalance to look forward to. Enjoy!