Flight to Safety
The revaluation that is underway now is beyond the simple scope of corporate earnings valuations, going to the very core of the system itself. Just like the equity pricing regime (and investor expectations for equity assets) needs to adjust to the twelve-year-old bear market reality, pricing within the global banking system as a whole needs to adjust to the reality that the artificial growth of the economic textbook is not replicable. The economic truth of 2012 is that much of the science of economics, and the foundation that gives to finance and financial pricing, was a temporal anomaly befitting only those specific conditions of that bygone era. In other words, the entire financial world needs to reset itself outside the paradigm of pre-2008. The secular bear market in US equities is one strand of this changing landscape, perhaps the first stirring of the collapse of the activist central bank experiment. In the end, the potential selling pressure of the dollar shortage is irresistible, no matter how “cheap” stock prices are to earnings, but none of it may matter in the grander scheme of a dramatic reset to the global system. The inability of that global system to escape this critical state, to simply move beyond crisis and function “normally” again, demonstrates conclusively, in my opinion, the foundational transformation that is still taking place well beyond the stock bear. Everything is a locked feedback loop of negative pressures in this age, no matter how much we want to see “value” where and how it used to exist.
Paradigm shifts are rarely orderly, but there are warning signs.
- Prepare for Lehmans (sic) re-run, Bank official warns (Telegraph)
- Fed Seen Extending Operation Twist While Avoiding Bond Buying (Bloomberg)
- US Watchdog Hits at ‘Risky’ London (FT)
- G20 Bid to Cut Cost of Euro Borrowing (FT)
- Romney Says Rubio Being Examined as Possible Running Mate (Bloomberg)
- Hollande Says Worth Exploring ESM Bond Buys (Reuters)
- US Upbeat After Eurozone Debt Crisis Talks (FT)
- BOJ Members Say Japan Could Be ‘Adversely Affected’ by Europe (Bloomberg)
- China Steps Said to Grow Bond Market, Add Issuer Scrutiny (Bloomberg)
- How Asia Will Fare if Europe Cracks (WSJ)
Now that all the rage is now just the NEW QE, but global coordinated NEW QE, it would make sense to observe the impact the last three episodes of quantitative easing, QE1, QE2 and Twist, have had on the market. And more importantly, whether such impact is rising, dropping, or staying the same. Well, as the following chart from BofA shows, we may be lucky if there is any favorable impact on risk assets following the announcement of more easing, and incidentally perhaps global easing is what is necessary (if not sufficient) now that the devaluation of the US dollar has become an exercise in futility. Because it now appears that only an absolute currency devaluation would work, not a relative one. What is another way of saying this: a global devaluation of all currencies relative to some benchmark... say gold. Most importantly, the only question now is how long before the entire "global intervention rumor" is faded, and what happens when the market realizes that suddenly, Syriza not winning the Greek elections is the downside case as it would mean no coordinated central bank intervention. Great job central planners - you have just shot yourself in the foot once again.
"We are witnessing the biggest financial-market manipulation of all time. The authorities have intervened more and more, and thereby created this monster. They might change the rules when the game goes against their own interests. We are in a severe credit crunch. It starts when the weakest links in the system can't finance their activities. Then you have a flight to safety into Treasuries and German bunds, compounded by a quasi-shortage of good collateral. That's why bond yields have fallen so low. This isn't an inflationary environment but a deflationary one."
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.