Below is the letter that the man who will most likely be Greece's next premier sent out earlier today to "the European leadership" including Jean-Claude "I only lie when it is reeeeeealy important" Juncker, and Gollum Van Vompuy. According to local, pro-bailout Greek media, the tone is far more conciliatory than his remarks from the past few days. Well, it must be google-translated Greek to us, because we sure don't see much if any conciliation in the letter.
Now that the first parliamentary election vote is meaningless, with no party able to form a coalition government, everyone is focusing on the outcome of the next election, which will take place some time in mid-June. Minutes ago Marc and Alpha (via Reuters) released the results of a poll conducted on Tuesday but just published, and which, if sustained means major trouble for the EMU, because the results show that Anti-bailout Syriza is alone going to have almost as much represented as its two main pro-bailout opponents combined, and confirms that all the other parties are losing voters which instead are going toward the one party that seeks above all, to sever the terms of the Memorandum.
When given the opportunity to expand on his thoughts, Marc Faber, of the Gloom, Boom, & Doom Report, provides dismally clarifying detail on the state of the world. In this excellent (must-watch on a day when nothing changed but European stocks dead-cat-bounced) Bloomberg TV interview, the admittedly ursine Faber reflects on the US (slowing of revenue growth and the real linkages to European stress) noting that unless we get a huge QE3, there will be "a crash, like in 1987" noting he believes we have seen the highs for the year; on the likelihood of QE3 (agreeing with us that the Fed won't act unless asset markets plunge first); on Greece's exit of the Euro and whether policy-makers can manage the exit properly "bureaucrats in Brussels and the media are brainwashing everybody that if Greece exited the euro, it would be a disaster. My view is the best would be to dissolve the whole euro zone"; on the difference between investment markets and economic reality (thanks to financial repression); and on the global race-to-debase "I do not have a high opinion of the U.S. government, but the bureaucrats in Brussels make the government in the U.S. look like an organization consisting of geniuses. The bureaucrats in Brussels are completely useless functionaries".
For the third year in a row, crude oil prices have stumbled in April (-26% in 2010, -17% in 2011, and -10% in 2012 so far). Much has been made of the help this will offer the economy and consumer spending but this is ceteris-paribus linear thinking. There are a few other critical aspects to consider that make many, including Barclays, believe "there is little to the latest price action than the increasingly self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘sell it in May and go away’, exaggerated by market positioning, with broader macroeconomic concerns used as a lightening rod." With crude inventories on the high side and gasoline (and other oil product) inventories relatively low and falling - we would hold our breaths on the recent crude price drop funneling along to the retail pump price anytime soon as there is one critical aspect of the supply-demand equation that many have missed - a period of heavier-than-usual refinery maintenance which while temporary have reduced demand but tell us nothing about the state of final demand. In other words, even if a balance of sorts was achieved in terms of crude flows in March and April due to maintenance, that balance is likely to be disturbed from June onwards. The mainstream media is full of talking-heads on the chronic weakness in US oil demand, but it does not appear to be a real phenomenon according to the steadily improving flow of data and while Greece, Hollande, and US macro data has dragged out macro shorts, it would appear the fundamentals support oil prices higher from here. With the upward-sloping curve in crude to year-end and the relatively small drop this week (-1.2% only in WTI) despite all the derisking, perhaps the market is already starting to realize.
The ESM funding idea is really just Spain playing for time (the ESM doesn’t actually have the funds to bail Spain out). But the fact that Germany is now making the ESM a political issue indicates the degree to which political relationships are breaking down in the EU. And once the political relationships break down... so will the Euro.
The ECB seems to be quite happy to comment on Greece, and most of the comments seem to say that Greece isn’t doing their part. Well, what about the ECB? What have they been doing for Greece? So far, not very much and I think they need to start to play nicely with their holdings. If the ECB just plays nicely, at no cost to the ECB, the situation in Greece would improve quickly and dramatically. The ECB must go from being a lender of last retort to a bona fide contributor to Greece and a true lender of last resort. Maybe the ECB should “Ask not what Greece can do for you, but what you can do for Greece”?
When we presented the latest chart of the Bundesbank's record TARGET2 imbalance last night we had one simple message: we hope Germany is prepared for the rout its central bank will soon experience once the Eurozone's members start dropping like flies. Today it appears that Germany has decided to go with the flow, and in what Spiegel classifies as a "turning point in monetary policy" notes that Germany, in an abrupt shift to its Weimar-impacted history, is getting ready to embrace inflation. What this likely means is that the ECB is about to set off on its most aggressive monetization experiment ever, which also explains why all of Europe is trading diggy limit up this morning: it is not on the latest batch of horrible news - it is on the return of speculation that the ECB is, with the Bundesbank's blessing, baaaack.
The implications of a nation leaving the Euro (and its contagion effects) are becoming clearer but are by no means discounted by the market. The risk of an interruption in the Greek adjustment program has increased significantly - and as Goldman notes - is the most likely eventual outcome for Greece and fears of the missed interest payment in June continue to concern many. The tough decision and dilemma for the international community remains between a rock (of acquiescence and just funding a belligerent member state) and had place (ECB deciding to let Greek banks go) with an odd middle ground seemingly the most likely given Europe's tendency for avoiding the hard decisions. There is no doubt that the near term implications from such an unfortunate turn of events would be profound for markets; fiscal risk premia would widen, the EUR would decline in value and European equities would underperform. The true question though, is how much lasting damage such a situation can do and whether, in the long run, systemic risks can be contained. In principle, to the extent that no other country chooses to go down the same path as Greece, there is no political or practical hurdle for the ECB to crucially safeguard the stability of the Euro area with unlimited liquidity provisions. A liquidity driven crisis can be averted in that sense. Whether risk premia stay on a higher tangent after such an event is a separate and complicated question but game-theoretically it strengthens the renegotiating position of Ireland, Portugal, and obviously Spain with the ECB (and implicitly the Bundesbank) being dragged towards the unmitigated print-fest cliff.
I think this going to get very messy, soon.
The Immortal Bard must have been referencing Madrid when penning these lines or, if not, would likely approve of their application this morning. The nationalization of Bankia, the third largest bank in Spain, is not some isolated event that is singular and alone in nature regardless of the expected dampening and muted words and phrases issued by the Spanish government. The cancer has been identified but not isolated and you may be assured that it remains in the lymph nodes of the two major banks in Spain. Fortunately, during America’s financial crisis, many of the sub-prime mortgages were securitized and no longer resided on the balance sheets of the American banks. In the case of Spain we find not only the majority of the mortgages resident at the Spanish banks but we find an added dimension which is a huge amount of money lent to Real Estate developers which is impaired and still on the books of the Spanish banks. Further, in my opinion, none of these loans have been accurately accounted for and they are being carried at whimsical valuations by the banks or pledged as collateral at the ECB where the Spanish bank funding jumped 50% in one month and now stands at $294 billion. Following the bouncing ball; there is now so much encumbrance of assets between pledged collateral and covered bond sales that the actual worth of the two major Spanish banks is now someplace between “not much” and “De minimis” should the situation deteriorate to the point of impairment.
European equities continue the downward trend throughout the morning, despite opening slightly higher. Similarly to yesterday the moves are not data-driven, however the ECB have revised their forecasts for Euroarea growth downwards to -0.2% this year from -0.1% and have revised their inflation outlook upwards to 2.3% from 1.9%. The focus remains on Greece as the PASOK leader Venizelos grabs the baton and now attempts to form a stable coalition. Commentary from Greece so far has not been revelatory; Venizelos has reiterated that he wishes to remain within the Eurozone and affirmed that his party has not changed its policy with respect to the bailout. Flight to quality is observed throughout the markets, with the German Bund already testing yesterday’s highs several times and the major cash equities seen lower throughout the continent.
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Goldman maintains “constructive” 6-month forecast, says case for higher prices remains in place. Goldman stands by its forecast for a rally in gold this year, saying that the precious metal will advance to $1,840/oz over six months as the U.S. central bank embarks on a third round of stimulus in June. The precious metal remains the “currency of last resort,” according to analysts led by Jeffrey Currie in a report released yesterday. Goldman’s gold forecast implies a 15% return in 6 months. “In early 2009, we suggested that gold had become the currency of last resort, overtaking the U.S. dollar’s status due the rising risk of sovereign default and debasement concerns,” Currie wrote in the report. Even as the U.S. currency advanced and gold fell on the European crisis in recent months, “it is too early for the dollar to reclaim this status,” they wrote. “The case for higher gold prices remains in place,” the analysts wrote. “U.S. economic and employment data has now disappointed for several weeks, European election results point to further stress in the euro area, while anecdotal data suggests that physical gold demand remains resilient.”