Flight to Safety
While it will be no surprise to any ZH reader (with our attention to Swiss 2Y rates) the world is undergoing a massive capital flight to safety. Rick Santelli gave this topic his special treatment today, pointing out that "capital is detouring - to avoid risk", and outlining just how big a 'crash' lower in yields we have seen among many of the supposedly safest sovereigns as money floods to safe-havens (including UK, US, Japan, Germany, and Holland). What is most important is that Rick outlines why we should care - when all around are yawning on about how cheap 'dividend' stocks must be given low interest rates - since it changes the nature of capital (the life-blood of our markets) from risk-taking to absolute safety-seeking - as he points out that "it isn't necessarily about our own economy's numbers, it isn't even about who we export to; it's the fact that if capital continues to get somewhat impaired, you'll have more data points as investors not only rethink about their capital but everybody rethinks everything in the capital structure that makes business go round."
Some thought that German chancellor Angela Merkel would quietly take the abuse heaped on her, and her program of "austerity" (or deleveraging as we call it, but that just does not have quite the negative connotations of a word that has become symbolic for all that is wrong with a massively overlevered world) by the new French president and Germany's increasingly more insolvent "partners", without much of a fuss. That changed over the weekend, following a Spiegel article titled "Merkel prepares to strike back against Hollande." Now, as Bloomberg reports, the German retaliation is picking more speed, following a thinly veiled threat from the former German finance minister, who basically said that French bonds are unlikely to continue seeing the flight to safety bid they have been enjoying recently, once the rating agencies cut France even more from its one vaunted AAA rating, where Moody's and Fitch still have the country (following the S&P downgrade to AA+ in January), but likely not for long now that Germany has spoken.
How does one get a Harvard Business School case study made after them? Why by being constantly ahead of the curve, with the right trade, and being mocked by the same "access journalism and excel free" mainstream media which pushed subprime toxic grenades to anyone who listened, only to be proven correct time after time. In other words, by being Kyle Bass: the same Kyle Bass who lost money month after month on his Subprime short (full slide deck here), only to see it all made back, and then some... quite a bit of some. Because it is not by following the herd that one makes the killer trades: it is by standing against it and by waiting for conventional wisdom (in this case that Japan's debt load is somehow sustainable - it isn't, but the kneejerk response still is one to treat JGB's as a flight to safety - this only works until it no longer does and the same math that had doomed the euro over a decade ago is finally grasped by all). Yes: he has lost 60% on his Japanese short fund since inception: so what? All it takes is one millisecond of Malcom Gladwellian insight and the formerly offerless market goes bidless. And that -60% is transformed to +XXXX.YY. Either way, below is the complete Harvard Business School presentation on Kyle Bass, on Heyman Capital and on the Japan Short ber, which we hope will put to rest some of the prevalent disinformation floating around.
We have discussed the probability (around 50%) and possibility of a Greek exit from the Euro ad nauseum; how the post-election anti-austerity rage is bringing the world to a new realization that this is probable not possible and the widespread risk aversion of this event is much more of a global event than local - no matter how many times you are told how small Greece is. Critically, as BofAML notes, it is the systemic threat of an untamed banking and sovereign crisis in Europe which makes multiple-sigma events less 'tail' and more 'normal'. With money due to run out at the latest by July, new elections mid-June (that show massive support for the anti-bailout party), and the impacts on the real economy, exchange rate and inflation fears, and default and ECB balance sheet implications; it seems there are also strong incentives to keep Greece in. However, there is a political line of compromise and austerity that will be hard to cross for both parties which, if it failed - and it doesn't have much time - would mean a very fast 'ring-fencing' would need to occur for this not to thermonuclear with the three main channels of volatility transmission to the rest of the world being: banking and finance, trade, and confidence - all three of which are active already with Asian trade (and banking exposure) seemingly under-appreciated in our view with Singapore dramatically exposed with a stunning 60%-plus of GDP tied up in European bank claims.
The failure to form a coalition government in Greece this weekend has prompted risk averse trade across the asset classes this morning with publications across Europe continuing to speculate about the potential exit of Greece from the Euro-area. As a result of this the Spanish 10yr yield touched 6.2% and the respective spreads over benchmark bunds in Spain and Italy have traded as wide as 30bps so far today. The knock on effect has been a sell-off in the financials which has seen the IBEX and FTSE MIB under perform in the equity markets with a relative safe-haven bid into the USD weighing on crude futures and precious metals. Spanish t-bill auctions and a variety of lines tapped out of Italy did stem the tide after selling around the top end of their indicative ranges but focus will remain solely on Greece given a lack of tier 1 data out of the US. Moving forward the next meeting of party heads in Greece is scheduled to commence at 1730BST, however, the head of the Syriza party has already indicated he will not be attending with the leader of the democratic left suggesting he is doubtful that a coalition can be formed.
The only good news spin this morning was that the Greek, pardon Spanish contagion, has not reached Italy, after the boot-shaped country sold €5.25 in bonds this morning at rates that did not indicate a meltdown just yet. It sold its three-year benchmark at an average 3.91 percent yield, the highest since January but below market levels of around 4 percent at the time of the auction. It also sold three lines due in 2020, 2022 and 2025 which it has stopped issuing on a regular basis. And this was the good news. The bad news was the not only has the Spanish contagion reached, well, Spain, but that everything else is now coming unglued, as confirmed first and foremost by the US 10 Year which just hit a new 2012 low of 1.777%. Spain also is getting hammered with CDS hitting a record wide of 526 bps overnight, and its 10 Year hitting 6.26% after the country sold 364 and 518-Day Bills at rates much higher rates than on April 17 (2.985% vs 2.623%, and 3.302% vs 3.11%). But the highlight of the day was the Banco de Espana release of the Spanish bank borrowings from the ECB, which to nobody's surprise soared by €36 billion in one month to €263.5 billion, more than doubling in 2012 from the €119 billion at December 31.
The other Chairman (of the fermentation committee) provides his unique color on the market's ability to shrug off the terrible news of the last few days thanks to the lesser-Chairman (of the Fed's) commitment to 'catch us if we fall' which has extended this rally for its fourth day-in-a-row so far. Critically UBS' Art Cashin opines on the tension between an entirely independent Fed and the pending election and the somewhat shocking statements from European Parliamentary President Schulz on the possible collapse of the European Union.
Risk-aversion is noted in the European markets with all major European bourses trading lower heading into the US open. Participants remain particularly sensitive to Spain following a release from the ECB showing that Spanish bank’s net borrowing from the ECB hit a new record high at EUR 227.6bln in March against EUR 152.4bln in February. Further pressure on the equity markets was observed following the overnight release of a below-expected Chinese GDP reading, coming in at 8.1% against a consensus estimate of 8.4%. As such, markets have witnessed a flight to safety, with Bund futures up over 40 ticks on the day. In the energy complex, WTI and Brent futures are also trading lower, as the disappointing Chinese GDP data dampens future oil demand, however a failed rocket launch from North Korea may have capped the losses.
The European debt struggle may have just entered a new phase. Don’t blink. Like any classy magician’s trick the idea is to get you looking one place while the real action is going on somewhere else. And that has been the recipe over the past week or so. While everyone has been watching the Spanish and Portuguese debt auctions, the real damage was done in Germany where the German government’s bid-cover ratio on a ten-year bund auction came in less than ‘one.’
Last Friday saw the release of a below-expected US Non-Farm Payrolls figure, causing flight to safety in particularly thin markets, with equity futures spiking lower and US T-notes making significant gains. Data from this week so far in Asia has shown Chinese CPI is still accelerating, coming in above expectations at 3.6% against an expected 3.4% reading. Looking ahead in the session, there is very little in the way of data due to the reduced Easter session in the US and the European and UK markets closing for Easter Monday.
While most of the time, it seems, investing in Emerging (or Growth) market countries is entirely focused on just that - the growth - with little thought given to the lower probability but high impact event of a growth shock. Goldman uses a variety of economic and corporate factors to compile a Growth Vulnerability Score including excess credit growth, high levels of short-term and/or external debt, and current account deficits. Comparing growth expectations to this growth shock score indicates the BRICs are now in very different places from a valuation perspective. Brazil remains 'fair' while India looks notably 'expensive' leaving China and Russia 'cheap'. It seems, in Goldman's opinion that markets are discounting large growth risks too much for China and Russia (and not enough for India). Finally, for all the Europeans, Turkey is richest of all, with a significant growth shock potential that is notably underpriced. Goldman's China-is-cheap perspective disagrees with Nouriel Roubini's well-below-consensus view of an initially soft landing leading to a hard landing for China as 2013 approaches as he notes the pain that commodity exporters feel in 2012 is only a taste of the bleeding yet to come in 2013.
In only three more years you're talking $20 trillion in public debt for the USA and a GDP going nowhere fast. Add to this that demographics are not encouraging and taxes of all sorts will have to rise. Cuts will be symbolic because the political pain will be unbearable. Without productive new investment, then debt service soon outstrips income growth and the economy enters a death spiral of declining productive investment, ever expanding debt and ever higher debt service costs.
Swiss money manager and long term bear Marc Faber, aka "Dr Doom", says political risk in the Middle East has increased significantly with war between Iran and Israel “almost inevitable”, and precious metals and equities investments offer some safety. "Political risk was high six months ago and is higher now. I think sooner or later, the U.S. or Israel will strike Iran - it's almost inevitable," Faber, who publishes the widely read Gloom Boom and Doom Report, told Reuters on the sidelines of an investment conference. Brent crude traded near $123 per barrel in volatile trade on Tuesday on fears of a disruption in Iranian supplies. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no signs of backing away from possible military action against Iran following a Monday meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. "Say war breaks out in the Middle East or anywhere else, (U.S. Federal Reserve chairman) Mr Bernanke will just print even more money -- they have no option...they haven't got the money to finance a war," said Faber. "You have to be in precious metals and equities ... most wars and most social unrest haven't destroyed corporations - they usually survive," he said. He said that Middle East markets had largely bottomed out, though regime changes from the Arab Spring revolutions were unlikely to be investor-friendly.
Asian equities too a hit, posting their biggest two-day loss this year. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 1.2%. The losses were situated in the Hang Seng, which fell 2.2% and China’s Shanghai Composite, which declined 1.4%. Meanwhile, Europe is off 1.6% in the aggregate after the second take on Q4 GDP confirmed the 0.3% drop from the initial estimate. And, after yesterday’s sell-off, equity futures are pointing to a weaker open at home across the major indices driven in part by concerns that the Greek PSI will not get the required 75% participation as reported here yesterday. In the US, government bonds are in rally mode with the 10-year Treasury note yield down 4bps, to 1.97%; the long bond is rallying 5bps, to 3.10%. Across the pond, government bonds are performing as one would expect. Benchmark German bunds are rallying 4bps, to 1.78% while France, Italy, and Spain are selling off anywhere from 5 to 9bps. In the FX market, the US dollar is enjoying a flight to safety bid against major currencies. The DXY index is up 0.5%. Not surprisingly, with risk being taken off the table, commodities are taking a hit. WTI crude oil is down 60 cents, to $106.10 per barrel. Industrial metals are taking a hit too; copper is off 1.6% to its lowest level since mid February. In Europe, the LTRO continues to not work at all as the ECB deposit facility rose to a new all time record of €827 billion as cash parked with the ECB is not being used for any other purpose, and the net money from LTRO 1 and 2 is now less than the cash added to the ECB from Europe's banks.