It should come as no surprise to anyone that major commercial banks manipulate Libor submissions for their own benefit. As Jefferies David Zervos writes this weekend, money-center commercial banks did not want the “truth” of market prices to determine their loan rates. Rather, they wanted an oligopolistically controlled subjective survey rate to be the basis for their lending businesses. When there are only 16 players – a “gentlemen’s agreement” is relatively easy to formulate. That is the way business has been transacted in the broader OTC lending markets for nearly 30 years. The most bizarre thing to come out of the Barclays scandal, Zervos goes on to say, is the attack on the Bank of England and Paul Tucker. Is it really a scandal that central bank officials tried to affect interest rates? Absolutely NOT! That’s what they do for a living. Central bankers try to influence rates directly and indirectly EVERY day. That is their job. Congresses and Parliaments have given central banks monopoly power in the printing of money and the management of interest rate policy. These same law makers did not endow 16 commercial banks with oligopoly power to collude on the rate setting process in their privately created, over the counter, publicly backstopped marketplaces.
More of the same is not working, and it just may require lower equity prices for investors to get what they really wish for.
European credit markets - sovereign, financial, and corporate - have all slumped dramatically in the last two days - massivley underperforming the ever-hopeful equity markets. Even though broadly European stocks (the BE500 or STOXX) are only retraced by around 25% off their post-summit highs, individual markets (and especially financials) have retraced almost 100% of the gains with Spain's IBEX seeing its biggest 2-day drop in 7 months and closing unch anged from pre-Summit levels. EURUSD is the story though as it plunges to two-year lows at 1.2266 - over 400pips from its post-summit euphoria highs as QE3 hopes are dashed by muddling through US data. The disconnect between US and European equity indices and the rest of the world's more idiosyncratic risk markets remains unsustainable and as we have said before again and again "credit anticipates and equity confirms".
Seven out of the seventeen economies that belong to the European Union that need to be bailed out. This is 41% of the Euro-17 that is in trouble. The second indication of decline is the recessions in Europe. In fact virtually all of Europe is in a recession and while Germany has held its head above the water I think by the third or fourth quarter that she is also mired in an economic decline. Europe is 25% of the global economy and this is beginning to affect the United States as exemplified by the declining revenues and profits of many American corporations that have so far reported out this quarter. The axes of the financial markets are America, Europe and China and with Europe in serious decline and China also contracting the strings are vibrating so that all of the markets are likely to go down. Even without some cataclysmic shock, realization is coming. The debts of Europe are being paid off with ever more debt and the can kicking will find its walls and as the European recession deepens it will be felt in America and then adjustments will have to be made - as fact overbears fantasy.
With Spanish bond spreads over 30bps wider from their open this morning, EURUSD has just broken its 200-hour moving average trading back close to 1.2500 for the first time since the summit. While this is an 75% retracement of the EUphoria, broad equity markets are only modestly off their highs (we assume on rate cut hopes - which is likely helping driven EUR down a little) - and yet corporate and financial credit spreads are at two-day lows. Hope fades even in equity markets where once we dig into the individual indices that most are down modestly (though Spain and Italy are down around 1%). We also note that Bunds have outperformed Treasuries by 20bps from the initial risk-transfer spike on Friday morning - though TSYs are closed today as Bund yields dropped 10bps from open to close today. On a side-note, Spanish 5Y CDS briefly traded wider than Ireland 5Y CDS today for the first time in two years.
An expectedly low volume day saw equity futures wiggle around VWAP until the day-session open at which time Energy and Materials sectors surged to lift stocks 10 pts higher into the European close. Commodities all surged - led by Oil with its 'Hormuz'-premium pricing in - and while the USD weakened after the European close ( driven by EURUSD bouncing off the 50% retracement of the EU Summit spike), equities also lost ground and rapidly reverted back down to VWAP. The strength in gold and silver was interesting as they extend their gains from pre-Summit lows (gold up over $70) and most notable to us was the recoupling of risk assets broadly with equities. Gold and stocks are seemingly back in sync and so are (separately) the USD and 10Y Treasury yields. After stocks hit VWAP they rapidly resurged back up to the highs of the day and closed there dragged up by a push into the green by HYG (with both stocks and high-yield seeing some sizable blocks going through at the highs). VIX closed down very modestly at 16.6% but most notably was the rise in implied correlation (and implicitly index vol - VIX - from around 1045ET into the close, even as stocks rallied). It would seem that the rise in WTI back over $87.50 (and Brent over EUR80) has been the 'risk-driver' for much of this rally (with CONTEXT - broad risk proxy - playing squeeze catch up to equity's health). In summary, equities are up over 5% as oil is smashing higher due to pending Hormuz strait closing and WAR; Germany and Finland basically saying NEIN to EU Summit deal as it stands; JPM in an energy market probe and BARC told to lower rates by the government!! All is well in nominal, central-bank, asset-value land.
EURUSD sold off back to retrace 50% of its post-EU Summit spike gains but thanks to a mini-ramp-fest in the last 30 mins of the European day, spiked back up nicely into the green for the day. The same was evident in Italian and Spanish sovereign bond spreads which had leaked ever so gently tighter all day until the last 30 mins where they compressed 5-7bps more - still hardly a ringing endorsement of the game-changing moment of last week (and still wide of their initial spike tights of Friday morning). European equity markets gained on average around 1% (with France and UK underperforming) - again helped by a late-day surge of risk-on-ness (which was miraculously evident in US equity markets also). Oil prices continue to surge (with Brent over EUR80 once again) and we suspect are as much a driver of correlated risk-on as anything else but perhaps most importantly - away from the squeeze fest in every other asset class - Swiss 2Y rates are pushing back lower once again back under -30bps (down around 4bps today) as it is clear that a bid remains for safe-havens (gold and silver also surging) despite the optics of improving spreads on sovereigns and a 10% rally in bank stocks (which remember will need to be 'resolved' before the ESM can step in at par).
A worldwide phenomenon – just as the slowdown is cascading around the globe.
Given Friday’s announcements and subsequent rally, the relative dearth of weekend snippets and analyses seems a little surprising.
The squeeze is on. EURUSD is probably the most extreme example of the squeeze-factor potential of what is at its heart a lot more talk and lot less action. Up almost 250 pips from its pre-summit-statement levels, EURUSD is just under 1.2700 - which in context is only back to 6/21 levels. As we noted on June 3, the epic level of CFTC non-commercial EUR spec shorts were ripe for a squeeze-fest, while on the other hand we specifically said "the pain trade will be any appeasing announcement from Europe." Sure enough we got just that (supposedly) and EURUSD is now up well over 300 pips from those levels as the clear pain trade plays out. The USD weakness has driven commodities higher with Gold reaching $1600 once again (6/21 levels). European sovereigns are (somewhat expectedly given the euphoria - though just how much has actually changed is unclear) also rallying hard on the day but while they have compressed spreads markedly, they have stalled at unchanged on the week (though Portugal remains notably wide on the week). Credit and equity markets in Europe are in sync and have snapped higher to 6/21 levels also (with financials outperforming modestly). Europe's equity markets are all soaring - up 3 to 4.5% - as DAX is now outperforming the S&P 500 on the year once again. Big moves (multiple sigma in bond and FX markets) and yet we can't help but think they were hoping for more than just a retracement of one week's price action.
In the final analysis Europe is quite exposed at this moment and may be for quite some time. The ESM, after the change in seniority status, must be re-affirmed in at least two countries that are the Netherlands and Finland and Germany has not yet approved it yet either. The EFSF has already spent $450 of its capacity on Greece, Ireland, Portugal and now $125 billion for Spain. The balance left in the fund is tissue paper thin and that is all that is in existence presently for any more problems in Europe. Plans and schemes aside, the amount of money that could actually be used today is a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Just as we noted yesterday, the ludicrous late-day ramp in European equity markets relative to the absolute nonchalance of credit (corporate, financial, and sovereign) markets, has now reverted totally as broadly speaking Europe ends the day in the red. Spain and Italy stock indices bounced a modest 0.5% on the day as the UK's FTSE and Germany's DAX suffered the most (down 1-1.5%) on Banking Lie-Bor drama and unemployment respectively. Corporate credit leaked a little wider on the day with the investment grade credits underperforming (dragged by weakness in financials). Financials were notably weak with Subordinated credit significantly underperforming Senior credit (bail-in anyone?). Sovereigns were weak overall (not just Spain, Italy, and Portugal this time) as Spain's 2s10s has now flattened to year's lows. Swiss 2Y rates dropped further - to record closing lows at -35.2bps (after being -39bps at their best/worst of the day - suggesting all is not well, and Bunds largely tracked Treasuries as the SCOTUS decision came on and pushed derisking across assets. EURUSD tested towards 1.2400 early on but is holding -35pips or so for now at 1.2430.
As it dawns upon the world that Ms. Merkel means exactly what she says and is not going to back down you may expect a quite negative reaction in the equity markets and a widening of spreads for some risk assets along with a strengthening of the Dollar. I am talking about the “Trend” here and not some trading strategy for today’s business. Germany is not going to flinch and cannot both due to local politics and to the now obvious fact that Germany has just about reached the limits of what she is financially able to do with a $3.2 trillion economy. To put it quite simply; they have run out of excess cash and more European contributions are only going to weaken the balance sheet of the nation and seriously imperil Germany’s financial condition. I say, one more time, Germany is not going to roll over and all of the pan European schemes brought forward by the bureaucrats and the poorer nations are not going to go anywhere. There is one novel possibility here and that is that the Germans, like the British, may opt out. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland et al may just say, “Fine, go ahead if you wish to have Eurobonds and the like but we will not guarantee them.” All plans do not need to have an either/or solution and this may well be Germany’s position in the end which would place the periphery nations and France in quite an interesting, if unenviable, place.
In a market in which horrible data leads to upward stock spikes, what can one expect but a directionless market for now: after all today's biggest pending disappointment, the durable goods orders due out in an hour, has not hit the tape yet sending stocks soaring. Newsflow out of Europe is more of the same, summarized by the following BBG headline: 'MERKEL SAYS EURO BONDS ARE THE ‘WRONG WAY." We for one can't wait for the algos to read into this as more bullish than Eurobonds only over her dead body. Perhaps that explains why despite the constant barrage of abysmal economic data, capped by today's epic collapse in MBS mortgage applications plunging 7.1% or the most since March despite record low mortgage yields, futures are once again green. In summary: the usual Bizarro market which has by now driven out virtually everyone.
We have discussed the use of correlation (cross-asset-class and intra-asset-class) a number of times in the last few years, most recently here, as a better way to track 'fear' or greed than the traditional (and much misunderstood) VIX. As Nic Colas writes this evening, a review of asset price correlations shows that the convergence typical of 'risk-off' periods in the market is solidly underway. While we prefer to monitor the 'finer' average pairwise realized correlations for the S&P 100 - which have been rising significantly recently, Nic points out that the more coarse S&P 500 industry correlations relative to the index as a whole are up to 88% from a low of 75% back in February. In terms of assessing market health, a decline in correlation is a positive for markets since it shows investors are focused on individual sector and stock fundamentals instead of a macro “Do or die” concerns. By that measure, we’re moving in the wrong direction, and not just because of recent decline in risk assets. Moreover, other asset classes such as U.S. High Yield corporate bonds, foreign stocks (both emerging market and develop economies), and even some currencies are increasingly moving in lock step. Lastly, we would highlight that average sector correlations have done a better job in 2012 of warning investors about upcoming turbulence than the closely-watched CBOE VIX Index. Those investors looking for reliable “Buy at a bottom” indicators should add these metrics to their investment toolbox as a better 'mousetrap' than the now ubiquitous VIX.