UK and EU markets played catch up at the open this morning following Friday’s miss in the US non-farm payroll report. This coupled with on-going concerns over Spain has resulted in further aggressive widening in the 10yr government bond yield spreads in Europe with the Spanish 10yr yield edging ever closer to the 6% level. As a result the USD has strengthened in the FX market in a moderate flight to quality with EUR/USD trading back firmly below the 1.3100 and cable falling toward the 1.5800 mark. There was some unconfirmed market talk this morning about an imminent press conference from the SNB which raised a few eyebrows given the recent move in EUR/CHF below the well publicised floor at 1.2000, however, further colour suggested an announcement would be linked to the naming of Jordan as the full-time head of the central bank when they hold their regular weekly meeting this Wednesday. Elsewhere it’s worth noting that the BoJ refrained from any additional monetary easing overnight voting unanimously to keep rates on hold as widely expected. Meanwhile, over in China the latest trade balance data recorded a USD 5.35bln surplus in March as import growth eased back from a 13-month peak.
- With a 2 Year delay, both FT and WSJ start covering the shadow banking system. For our ongoing coverage for the past 2.5 years see here.
- Trouble in shipping turns ocean into scrapheap (Telegraph)
- First-Quarter Home Prices Down 20.7% in Capital (China Daily)
- Bernanke Says Banks Need Bigger Capital Buffer (Reuters)
- Monti’s Overhaul Can’t Stop Pain From Spain: Euro Credit (Bloomberg)
- Spain Confronts Crisis Threat as Rajoy Seeks Deficit Cuts (Bloomberg)
- Japan’s Noda Announces Anti-Deflation Talks as BOJ Sets Policy (Bloomberg)
- White House makes case for Buffett Rule (CNN)
- Cameron to Make Historic Myanmar Trip (FT)
- 'Time for Closer Ties' With India (China Daily)
While the idea of a futuristic tale of the resurgence of Greece and how Germany shot itself in the foot could well be the work of the horror-writer, HSBC's Chief Economist Stephen King opines on what could well be with a moral for those who want Athens out of the Euro. "The idea that Greece can leave and that the rest of the eurozone will then live happily ever after – a view that is quickly becoming the conventional wisdom – is surely wrong. Departure might eventually be an answer to Greece's difficulties but it only asks questions of everybody else." And the fantastic journey King lays out is rooted in a sad reality that he sums up thusly: "Germany's gamble had failed. In the attempt to punish Greece, it had ended up with an impossible choice: creating a fiscal union or huge currency upheaval. Berlin had taken aim at Greece but shot itself in the foot."
Bribes for surgery.
Whatever one thinks about Lord Wolfson’s euro-skeptical meddling, it certainly has been entertaining. The British baron’s offer of a £250,000 prize for the best ideas to deal with a possible breakup of the eurozone has brought all sorts of people out of the woodwork. (Including this precocious 11-year old.) But one of the most fascinating ideas on the shortlist has come from Neil Record — although I’m not sure that my takeaway was his main intent. Suppose that a country does leave the eurozone — this was the starting premise of all the responses to Wolfson’s essay contest. Greece, as the weakest link, seems the most likely candidate. But on the other hand it’s possible that one of the strongest countries chooses to go its own way. Of course we’re talking about Germany. Whether it remains in the euro or decides to take its chances by introducing a new Deutschemark, the fact is that in the case of a euro breakup, Germany is where it’s at. Its fiscal position and reputation for prudence is among the strongest of all developed countries. If it were on its own then its currency would rise to reflect this. So, to the extent that you can choose, you will want to get your banknotes from Berlin
In what could be one of the better deals encountered on Ebay, one can submit a winning bid for none other than the country of Greece, currently going for the modest price of $1,550 (although with 6 more days left in the auction, there is a small chance Goldman will outbid and use it as LTRO 3 collateral). Of course, since the country is worth much less than the debt (all 7 subordinated classes of it) any new equity buyer would assume, this is a trick auction: our advice - settle for nothing less than getting paid as much as possible for "buying" the country.
Liquidity never solves issues of solvency and the time that it buys is generally of a relatively short duration. After the $1.3 trillion loan by the ECB to the European banks which helped drive up the prices for European sovereigns what do we now find as the liquidity ebbs? Yesterday’s Spanish auction was abysmal and the French auction today did not go too well with rising yields and less demand. The austerity measures are driving Europe into a worsening recession and the financial positions of Spain and Italy are deteriorating even as new measures are put into place. In fact there are only two ways out of the European mess which are growth, not happening, and Inflation which may be the ultimate strategy employed by the EU and the ECB if the construct holds to the point of changing strategies which is surely no outlier event.
(The most) bankrupt countries to bail out bankrupt countries. And taxpayers get to foot the bill.
More pain in Spain has been the theme so far in the European morning as poor auction results across three lines has resulted in significant widening in the 10-yr government bond yield spreads over benchmark bunds with the Spanish 10yr yield up some 24bps on the day. In combination with this the latest Germany Factory orders also fell short of analysts’ expectations and as such the lower open in bund futures following yesterday’s less than dovish FOMC minutes has been completed retracted and we now sit above last Friday’s high at 138.58.
Oh where to begin. The weakness in the markets started late last night when Australia posted a surprising second consecutive deficit of $480MM on expectations of a $1.1 billion surplus (with the previous deficit revised even higher). This is obviously quite troubling because as we pointed out 3 weeks ago when recounting the biggest Chinese trade deficit since 1989 we asked readers to "observe the following sequence of very recent headlines: "Japan trade deficit hits record", "Australia Records First Trade Deficit in 11 Months on 8% Plunge in Exports", "Brazil Posts First Monthly Trade Deficit in 12 Months " then of course this: "[US] Trade deficit hits 3-year record imbalance", and finally, as of late last night, we get the following stunning headline: "China Has Biggest Trade Shortfall Since 1989 on Europe Turmoil." So who is exporting? Nobody knows, but everyone knows why the Aussie dollar plunged on the headline. The shock sent reverberations across Asian markets, which then spilled over into Europe. Things in Europe went from bad to worse, after Germany reported its February factory orders rose a modest 0.3% on expectations of a solid 1.5% rebound from the -1.8% drop in January. But the straw on the camel's back was Spain trying to raise €3.5 billion in bonds outside of the LTRO's maturity, where the results confirmed that it will be a long, hard summer for the Iberian country, which not only raised far less, or €2.6 billion, but the internals were quite atrocious, blowing up the entire Spanish bond curve, and sending Spanish CDS to the widest in over half a year.
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.
The only European "thinktank" that has been more correct about predicting developments in the continent than any of its peers ("Greece will never default" - nuf said), has released a new briefing, this time looking at the latest European hotbed of trouble (which is not new at all, just the realization that the LTRO benefit has faded has finally set in), Spain, and specifically if its bank will be forced to seek a Eurozone bailout. OpenEurope is diplomatic about it but the conclusion is that all signs point to yes. Furthermore, as recent general strikes across the country, coupled with occasional rioting, showed, Rajoy's agenda of enacting austerity which will be critical to receive German assistance simply to make Spain the latest German debt slave, may have some problems being enacted. Yet the biggest catalyst for the housing-heavy exposed Spanish banks is that, as Open Europe finds, of the €400 billion in loans made to residential sector, €80 billion is toxic. And only €50 billion in reserves are available. Hence the simple math: at least a €30 billion shortfall will need to come from Europe. And this assume no further declines in home price, which however are set for a record price drop this year. So... LTRO 3 anyone as the focus once again shifts to "deja vu Greece?"
When one cuts out all the noise, the only true purpose of aggressive (or not) central bank asset expansion, is to be a "buyer" of last resort of sovereign debt funding. Think of it as the source of credit money demand (and hence supply) when every other sector is deleveraging, and when a given Treasury authority needs to pump trillions in debt into the market but when nobody can afford to lever up and buy said incremental debt. Call it monetization, call it funding the deficit, call it whatever: that's what it is. And when people think of monetization, they think, first and foremost of the Chairman, who recently was caught praising the fiat system at a university named for a person who said the following prophetic line: "Paper money has had the effect... it will ever have, to ruin commerce, oppress the honest, and open the door to every species of fraud and injustice." Irony aside, when one cuts to the chase, and ignores even further noise about monetization being direct, indirect, sterilized, shadow, etc, there are just two metrics that are relevant: change in sovereign debt and change in Central Bank Assets. In this regard, of the US' $5.5 trillion in sovereign debt increase, the Fed matched Geithner for $2.0 trillion of the total, or 37%. An admirable number and certainly better than the BoE's 29%. Yet who gets the absolute top prize? Why none other than the ECB, which with $2 trillion in expansion (of which about 60% took place under Goldman apparatchik Mario Draghi in just the past 6 months) represents a whopping 63% of total Eurozone sovereign debt expansion of $3.1 trillion!