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.
Most airport book stores are crammed with the very latest business books which promise to make you a better worker at whatever job you've got, guaranteeing you a much bigger salary. ("Good to Great", "Emotional Equations", "Entreleadership", "Switch", and a myriad of other worthless drivel). I was heartened to see Michael Lewis' Boomerang, which is something I knew would interest me. So that's what I bought.
Hubris is at the heart of this. Everyone says this cannot happen – we won’t allow it. Says who? The EU says: if it is written in an agreement, it must be totally correct, unchangeable, and followed at all costs. New realities can’t intervene and no slippage is allowed. Why the Germans are so sure that they know the future is beyond me. They are fallible too, but they won’t admit it, and the Greeks can’t make them budge. Haven’t they looked around? Santorini has a different economic and social cost structure than Wiesbaden. Humanity (and common sense) seems totally lacking in the negotiations with the Greeks and a violent backlash would be totally understandable. Why the countries that have been fattening up their current account surpluses selling products to Greeks, whom they should have known were basically broke – just as they always have been – should be paid 100% on the euro is beyond me. Major losses should apply not only to sovereign borrowings but also to accounts receivable for cars, electronics, and other consumer goods. The market has not opened its eyes to the impact this Greek unraveling will have. The Eurozone will be mortally wounded and the world will suffer a significant recession – maybe as deep as 2008. European banks will lose much of their capital base and many should be bankrupt, but just as in the Lehman aftermath, the governments will try to save the banks and the banks’ bondholders, solvent or not. As the bank appetite for Eurozone sovereign paper will be decimated, austerity will probably follow shortly, followed by deflation and uncontrollable money creation. The European recession should be one for the record books.
While these pages have been warning for about a month that a Greek default is precisely what Europe wants, a self-deluded market has been ignoring this reality. That is no longer the case as the default (pardon the pun) thought is now one of Greek default. As for the assumption that "it is all priced in"... that too is being scrapped as revisionist histories of Lehman come to mind. As a result the EURUSD is drifting ever lower, and has been trading with a 1.29 handle for the first time in weeks. Needless to say, Europe is on the verge of panic as the nearly 2-month impact of the LTRO is now truly gone, and with unmistakable stigma (sorry Jernej Omahen - read this) associated with LTRO banks, we shudder at the thought how many banks will voluntarily subject themselves to being seen as desperately needing European Discount Window access in two weeks. Moody's downgrade of key insurance companies and threat to cut most banks, has not helped. Finally, some unpleasant news out of China, where commerce ministry said that the trade outlook is "grim" while a research with the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that Chinese EFSF contribution should be capped at Spain's €92.6 billion, rounds out the rout. So while we wait patiently as reality in Europe truly seeps into risk prices, here is Bloomberg with a summary of overnight catalysts.
- 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)
Europe has moved into the “pound of flesh” stage of negotiations. Everyone just wants to make their point and the probability of a deal is dropping by the day. Europe is running out of time, and is just clueless. Yesterday has to confirm that even for the most optimistic person out there. They decided they should wait until the elections. Then they realized they had to deal with the March 20th bonds. Then they came up with a “bridge loan”. Clearly they didn’t bother to look up the definition of a bridge loan. A bridge loan is a loan that is meant to be temporary and has such punitive rates over time that the borrower is heavily encouraged to pay it back with new debt. This is just a “small” loan but one that is permanent and probably never getting paid back. I’m not sure if they asked the contributors whether they wanted to put up €16 billion which is somehow now “small”. Then noise came out that maybe Greece just shouldn’t have elections. The Troika and Greece have been negotiating all this time and no effort was spent on figuring out a plan in the event of default. They are scrambling to come up with one. I remain convinced that Greece could do well in default if it is managed properly, but the chances of them doing anything properly is low.
A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To NegativeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/15/2012 20:58 -0400
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.
Greek President (And Nazi Resistance Fighter) Lashes Out At "German Boot" For Pushing Country To The BrinkSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/15/2012 17:28 -0400
The following extract from a Bloomberg article suggests that the German mission of getting Greece to file for bankruptcy on its own, thus removing the perception that Europe has given up on the first (of many) terminal patient, own has almost succeeded. "Greek President Karolos Papoulias slammed Germany’s finance minister for recent comments about his country as stalled bailout talks stoked tensions between Greece and the northern European countries funding its rescue. “I don’t accept insults to my country by Mr. Schaeuble,” Papoulias, who fought in the resistance against the Nazis during World War II, said in a speech today. “I don’t accept it as a Greek. Who is Mr. Schaeuble to ridicule Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns? We always had the pride to defend not just our own freedom, not just our own country, but the freedom of all of Europe."
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.