European Central Bank
And so we are back to the same fiscal feudalism that Germany demanded, and the Greece refused weeks ago. We have been pondering the ECB bond swap 'news-story' and the market's reaction to this with incredulity. Our earlier discussion of the deal (here and here) pointed to the problems and now Peter Tchir explains how this debt swap is actually a step towards a Greek default (thanks to the removal of the CAC-encumberance within the ECB). It is also a large step towards colonization as the FT notes that the bailout terms will contain "unprecedented controls" on Athens. It is our earlier comments on the unintended consequence of this ECB action - that of explicitly subordinating all other sovereign bondholders in Europe, and that this would likely raise the very large specter of legal action by other Greek bondholders arguing the ECB has received unfair treatment - that the FT also brings to investors' attention (which is seemingly being ignored on the eve of OPEX). Whichever way you look at this - it is not good for Greece and could have significantly negative implications for the rest of the European sovereign bond market just as investors are starting to dip a toe in the cool risk water once again.
While next to impossible, now may be a good time to ignore the constant barrage of meaningless noise and flashing red headlines, which not only are contradictory but prove that Europe is literally making it all up as it goes along. Today is a great case in point of a tangential detour which does nothing to change the reality that Germany no longer wants Greece in the Eurozone (remember, oh, yesterday), and that the ECB is merely playing possum with PSI creditors who will block the deal with even greater vigor than before (anyone recall the FT story about the PSI deal being on the verge of collapse not due to the ECB but due to private creditors?) as the ECB's even bigger subordination will simply make the amount of hold outs even greater. So while algos take the required 12-48 hours to figure out what just happened today, here is SocGen's Suki Mann stepping back from the endless daily din, and summarizing what is really happening in Europe.
Yesterday, it was Thomas Stolper who capitulated on his latest incursion into the field of 0.000 batting, when he closed his long EURUSD reco (only for the EUR to jump today of course). We can hardly wait for him to announce he is again long the EURUSD for the clearest EUR short signal possible. That said, it still left outstanding the Goldman Russell 2000 recommendation noted here previously. Sure enough, in the aftermath of yesterday's return of risk with a vengeance, Goldman is taking steps to make sure it locks in at least some profits on its RUT 2000 target of 860 by hiking the stop to 810 from 765. The reason? "What has clearly changed in the past week -- and the catalyst for this "leash tightening" -- is that European sovereign risks have reemerged, with continued near-term support for Greece now much more uncertain than we or the markets had previously assumed. With the amplification of these hard-to-assess risks emanating from Europe, and data continuing to support our main thesis, we think that protecting the gains at this point with relatively tight stop is prudent" But why if Europe is suddenly fixed, on the completely meaningless news that the ECB is funding Eurozone central banks with magic money on their Greek bond losses, even as the actual debt notional is not changing at all. At this point, we doubt we are the only one who no longer care.
If the ECB switches 50 billion of old bonds for 50 billion of new bonds, what does Greece get? No notional reduction. Possibly a reduction in interest payments but that depends on the coupons on the bonds the ECB owns. The new bonds allegedly have some covenants and possibly other projections for the bond holders. That is a negative for Greece - they can default on these old bonds and the ECB can't do much about it. Maybe the reporter is wrong, but this is a good deal for the ECB, marginal for Greece, but does make it easier to jam holdouts. They can default on old bonds or retroactively CAC old bonds and the ECB won't be affected. This announcement is either marginally good or marginally bad depending on the details. It is not great or a game changer - except maybe the money printing angle.
A number of headlines from Bloomberg, via Die Welt, that the ECB will undergo a bond swap on their greek government bonds and the 'profit' will flow to governments. This is absolute delusion. The ECB claims EUR50bn nominal value of GGBs - so likely took a EUR20-30bn loss on this given the prices they bought at under the SMP and the current market price. We explained last week (must-read) the delusional nature of these profits (given the losses that occur once the new bonds break) and assume this is yet another attempt to make market participants believe they wil help with PSI. However, there is more to this in our humble opinion. Since the ECB says they will distribute profits (which we know are illusory) to governments - it is nothing but a covert attempt to funnel money (think printing) to local government central banks - and the illusory profits here are simply giving away free money. Perhaps the loud screaming over the pain associated with even an 'orderly' Greek default is enough that the ECB needs to placate them with some new freshly printed money? For now, the PSI remains in limbo for the hold-out blocking stake reasons we have discussed at length - if the ECB were to step into the market and buy/swap with hold-outs all of their UK-law bonds at Par (for huge gains to the hedgies) then perhaps we get a deal done - but this would be astounding and leave the rest of the European sovereign debt market disabled as investors pushed for the same deal and vigilantes drove Portugal and then Spain to this point...
Is it perhaps cheaper for the Troika to fund the ECB's EUR30bn loss (and let Greece default) than pay the EUR130bn for them to stay?
Two formal requests to Mr. Draghi - please show where the profit is booked on your balance sheet and also explain how a notional swap (no debt reduction) in any helps the Greeks?
When Greece defaults, the fall-out will be much, much larger than people expect simply by virtue of the fact that everyone is lying about their exposure to Greece.
While many will point to the drop in front-end Italian bond yields as proof positive that all is well in the still-peripheral nation, we note that today saw 10Y Italian bond (BTP) spreads crack back above 400bps for the first time in 3 weeks and nervously remind readers of the stock market reaction in Eastman Kodak a week or two before its death. Of course, Italy is perhaps not quite as imminently terminal as EK was (thanks to the ECB reacharound) but the excitement about BTP's 'optical' improvement will be starting to fade as banks are underperforming dramatically, we have exposed the sad reality of the LTRO, and now even the short-dated BTP yields are now over 40bps off their tights from last week. Why? Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid may have the answer that Italy has now been in recession four times in the last decade and while hope is high that the new austere budget will take the nation to debt sustainability, he notes that the cumulative forecast miss since 2003 on GDP estimates is approaching an incredible 20%. As Reid notes, "When debt sustainability arguments are finely balanced and very dependent on future growth the question we'd ask is how confident can we be that economists’ forecasts are correct that Italy will pull itself out of the perpetual weak and disappointing growth cycle seen over the last decade or so." As we (ZH) have been vociferously noting, LTRO did nothing but solve a very short-term liquidity crisis in bank funding, and the reality of insolvent sovereign and now more encumbered-bank balance sheets is starting the vicious circles up again. Deutsche's base case remains that peripheral growth will disappoint and the sovereign crisis will re-emerge shortly - we tend to agree.
- Europe Demands More Greek Budget Controls in Bid to Forge Rescue (Bloomberg)
- Moody's Warns May Downgrade 17 Global Banks, Securities Firms (Reuters)
- Officials at Fed Split on More Bond Buys (Hilsenrath)
- Greek deal delays pressure periphery (Reuters)
- Talk, but No Action, to Break US Grip on World Bank Job (Reuters)
- Greek Rhetoric Turns Into Battle of Wills (FT)
- Greece Seeks Monday Bailout Deal, EU Questions Remain (Reuters)
- US Lawmakers Announce Payroll Tax-Cut Deal (Reuters)
- China Leader-In-Waiting Xi Woos and Warns US (Reuters)
- China's FDI falls 0.3% in Jan (Reuters)
As you know, back in December the ECB conducted a 3 year LTRO operation that drew far more interest than anticipated. The operation saw banks draw a Gross (net liquidity injection was ~210 Billion Euros) ~490 Billion Euros from the ECB (and not according to plan, turned around and parked it back at the ECB instead of buying up shitty bonds).
A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To NegativeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/15/2012 19:58 -0500
For a while now we have said that the very weakest link in Europe is not the banks, not the ECB, not triggered CDS, and not even the shadow banking system (well, infinitely rehypothecated Greek bonds within a daisychain of broker-dealers, which ultimately ends up at the ECB at a negligible repo discount, that could well be the weakest link - we will have more to say about this over the weekend) but two very specific insurers: Italy's mega insurer Assecurazioni Generali, which at last check had more Greek bonds as a % of TSF than anyone else, and Europe's biggest insurer and Pimco parent, Allianz, which is filled to the gills with pretty much everything (for more on Generali, or as we like to call it by its CDS ticker ASSGEN read here, here, here, and here). Well, Moody's just gave them, and the entire European space, the evil eye, and soon the layering of margin calls upon margin calls, especially if and when Greece defaults and a third of ASSGEN's balance sheet is found to be insolvent, will make anyone who still is long CDS those two names rich. Assuming of course the Fed steps in and bails out the counterparty the CDS was purchased from.
Northern Europe to Greece: it’s over, baby....
What is better than a one-front European war on insolvency? Why two-fronts of course. But not before many "soothing" words are uttered (no really). From Reuters: "Portugal's international lenders arrived in Lisbon on Wednesday to review the country's bailout, with soothing words of support likely to dominate as Europe gropes for success stories to counteract its interminable Greek headache. As the euro zone's second weakest link, Portugal's ability to ride out its debt crisis will be key to Europe's claim that Greece is a unique case. Despite a groundswell of concerns that Portugal - like Greece - may eventually have to restructure its aid programme, the third inspection of Lisbon's economic performance in the context of its ongoing 78-billion-euro rescue should make that contention clear. "The review will be all about peace and harmony," said Filipe Garcia, head of Informacao de Mercados Financeiros consultants. "The important thing for Europe is to isolate Portugal from Greece, to put it out of Greece's way in case of a default or even an exit from the euro." That makes sense - after all even Venizelos just told Greece that the country is not Italy. And if that fails, the Don of bailouts, Dr Strangeschauble will just give the country will blessing to use a few billion in cash. Oh but wait. It can't. Because as as we pointed out in late January, and as the market has so conveniently chosen to forget, Portugal, unlike Greece, has simple, clean and efficient negative pledge language in its non-local law bonds. Which means "no can do" to any additional bailouts under its current capitalization. Which may very well mean that Portugal is stuck with its existing balance sheet unless the country succeeds in doing an exchange offer which takes out all UK- and other strong-protection bonds. All of them. And as Greece has shown, that is just not going to happen.
UBS' economics research group do not believe that Greece is saved but hope that it is at best ring-fenced. In an excellent Q&A follow up, Stephane Deo and his team address the role of the EFSF, the IMF package and its austerity measures, the ECB's participation, and finally the likelihood of the PSI being successful and its fallout. As Greek 2Y yields break 200% (obviously price is the critical part but these yields are stupendous) and bridge loan discussions appear for the March 20th maturity, perhaps UBS view of the IMF 'walking away' is more credible if they manage to ring-fence a recap of the banking sector. We would be surprised if contagion was contained and, as we have seen before, that risk leaks out somewhere and unintended consequences (or unknown unknowns) tend to pop up just when we least expect them. Perhaps the FT's note this morning (which incidentally confirms the everything that Zero Hedge warned about almost a month earlier) that deadlines are slipping rapidly is the bright yellow canary in the Piraeus coal-mine as 'time is running out' for a solution here very quickly (as seemingly is the desire).
Overnight, Peugeot, the struggling European car-maker, announced dismal results and significant over-capacity in Europe pushing its stocks down 6% (down almost 13% since last week). The somewhat unsurprising twist was that the CFO said they were approaching the ECB about collateralized loans. As Bloomberg notes:
- *PEUGEOT DISCUSSING WITH ECB, PRESENTING COLLATERAL, CFO SAYS
- *PEUGEOT PRESENTING COLLATERAL ABOVE EU1 BLN TO ECB
So the ECB has now managed its other unintended consequence - to replace the entire bank intermediation credit creation channel (ring any bells?) as Europe embarks on its own 'Cash-for-Clunkers', ECB-Style.
In case one is wondering what lit a fire under the EURUSD and the ES' ass in the past 30 minutes, why it is the trusty old fall back - China, to which all algos respond every single time like stung donkeys as if on command. Because just as the EURUSD was about to retrace the lows as the realization that the EOD rumor was nothing but an infrared herring, something else had to step in an continue to rumor-based levitation. Sure enough, that something was the Chinese central bank.
- CHINA PBOC'S ZHOU SAYS HE'S CONFIDENT EU WILL SOLVE CRISIS: MNI
- CHINA PBOC'S ZHOU SAYS HE SUPPORTS EU, ECB MEASURES: MNI
- PBOC'S ZHOU: CHINA WILL PARTICIPATE IN RESOLVING EU DEBT CRISIS
- CHINA PBOC GOVERNOR ZHOU SAYS HE HAS CONFIDENCE IN EURO: MNI
And that's all it took to life the ES by over 10 points in minutes.