Lehman

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Davos Post Mortem





And like that, this year's Davos World Economic Forum has come and gone, having achieved nothing except allowing a bunch of representatives of the status quo to feel even more self-righteous and important in the world's biggest annual circle jerk, in which fawning journalists ask the questions their cue cards demand, knowing too well their jobs are on the line if they ask anything even remotely provocative (and with the price of admission in the tens of thousands of dollars, one wonders just how many Excel classes these "journalists" could have taken as an alternative, in order to actually do some original math-based research, yes, shocking concept, to present to their readers instead of merely regurgitating others' talking points). Bloomberg TV has compiled the best video summary of the highly irrelevant soundbites by economists, CEOs and other people of transitory power, who provide absolutely no original insight into anything, and in which ironically it is Mexico's Felipe Calderon who summarizes it best: "we have a timebomb the bomb is in Europe and we are working together to deactivate it before it explodes over all of us." Lastly, we provide a quick glimpse into current and previous guests of Davos to show just how utterly worthless is the "braintrust" of those present.

 
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Greece Politely Declines German Annexation Demands





Following yesterday's frankly stunning news that the Troika politely requests that Greece hand over its first fiscal, then pretty much all other, sovereignty to "Europe", here is the Greek just as polite response to the Troika's foray into outright colonialism:

  • GREEK GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN DECLARES THAT THE BUDGET IS SOLELY ITS RESPONSIBILITY - DJ

What is interesting here is that unlike the highly irrelevant IIF negotiations which will end in a Greek default one way or another, the real plotline that should be followed is this one: because unless Germany, pardon the Troika, gets the one condition it demands, namely "absolute priority to debt service" and "transfer of national budgetary sovereignty", as well as a "constitutional amendment" thereto. there is no Troika funding deal. Furthermore, since as a reminder the PSI talks are just the beginning, the next step is ensuring compliance, as was noted yesterday ("[ceding sovereignty] will reassure public and private creditors that the Hellenic Republic will  honour its comittments after PSI and will positively influence market access"), any refusal to implement such demands is an automatic dealbreaker. Which means anything Dallara and the IIF say, as representatives of a steering committee that at this point probably constitutes of one bondholder, with the bulk having shifted to the ad hoc committee, is irrelevant. Germany just got its answer. And the next step is, as Zero Hedge first suggested, an epic LTRO in precisely one month, whose sole purpose will be to prefund European banks ahead of the Greek default with enough cash to withstand Europe's Bear Stearns. Although as a reminder, in the US, Bear Stearns only led to Lehman and the global "all in" gambit to preserve the financial system by shifting bank insolvency risk to the sovereigns (a chart showing bank assets as a percentage of host countries' GDP can be found here). But who will bailout the world's central banks which already collectively hold over 30% of global GDP in the form of "assets", or as this term is better known these days, debt?

 
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Taxpayers Lose Another $118.5 Million As Next Obama Stimulus Pet Project Files For Bankruptcy





Remember that one keyword that oddly enough never made it's way into the president's largely recycled SOTU address - "Solyndra"? It is about to make a double or nothing repeat appearance, now that Ener1, another company that was backed by Obama, this time a electric car battery-maker, has filed for bankruptcy. Net result: taxpayers lose $118.5 million. The irony is that while Solyndra may have been missing from the SOTU, Ener1 made an indirect appearance: "In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries." Uh, no. Actually, the correct phrasing is: "...positioned America to be the world's leading manufacturer of insolvent, bloated subsidized entities that are proof central planning at any level does not work but we can keep doing the same idiocy over and over hoping the final result will actually be different eventually." We can't wait to find out just which of Obama's handlers was may have been responsible for this latest gross capital misallocation. In the meantime, the 1,700 jobs "created" with the fake creation of Ener1, have just been lost. Yet nothing, nothing, compares to the irony from the statement issued by the CEO when the company proudly received taxpayer funding on its merry way to insolvency: " "These government incentives will provide a powerful stimulus to a vital industry and help ensure that the batteries eventually powering millions of cars around the world carry the stamp 'Made in the USA'." Brilliant - and no, they are laughing with us, not at us.

 
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Koo Concerned Keynesian Class Contracting





The fear of 'turning-Greek', which is now apparently worse than 'turning-Japanese', is the anchoring bias that seems to be driving more and more countries to dramatically adjust their fiscal affairs. However, Nomura's Richard Koo (whose blood pressure was already elevated last week at the ignorance of many nations to his balance sheet recession diagnosis and treatment protocol) points out in a note this week that Greece's problems stem from fiscal profligacy, a lack of domestic savings, and dishonest reporting by the government (it does kind of ring a bell). His point being that the rest of the eurozone - not to mention Japan, US, and the UK - are suffering balance sheet recessions (unlike Greece), which occur when the collapse of an asset price bubble drives sharp increases in private savings. His problem is that traditional economists are not taught of a situation in which private sector deleveraging (which we discussed last week also) leaves fiscal stimulus as the only way to stabilize an economy and in the currrent environment of deficits being watched and denigrated by any and all politician, market participant, and talking head, Koo's borrow-and-spend 'all deficits are good deficits' medicine is hard to swallow. Koo believes that the post-Lehman world was saved by fiscal stimulus, that Greece is different, and that the anti-Koo austerity actions have 'thrown a large wrench into the works of many world economies' and while the UK is coming around to the notion that austerity is not working, he worries on recent actions in the US and Japan at a time of excess private saving. It seems to us that his argument boils down to - given the system's fragility - an Austrian solution to the broken Keynesian problem is unworkable (without depression), and he hopes that the growing doubts (recessions popping up left, right, and center) about an overriding focus on fiscal consolidation will bring people back to Keynesian (Kooian) fold. He concludes with a worrying reflection on his countrymen in the MoF that seem to have learnt none of his lessons as they look to raise the consumption tax and Japan's rising sun sets.

 
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Desperate Spain Wants European Rescue Fund To Be "The Bigger The Better"





No, there is no desperation in Spanish PM's Rajoy statement at all. The head of the economy, whose unemployment rate just soared to a ridiculous 23% in the past quarter, registering the largest drop since the Lehman collapse, pretty much made it clear that without European (read German) fiscal aid viagra, the unemployment rate may soon reach that of Chicago, only without the typo. Reuters reports that Spain favours the creation of the largest possible European financial rescue fund to prevent future crises, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Tuesday, adding that his government will meet its budget deficit target this year. "We support a rescue mechanism, the bigger the better, for it to act as a dissuading element for certain things that we've been going through lately," Rajoy told reporters after meeting his Portuguese counterpart, Pedro Passos Coelho. He said Spain will meet its budget gap goal of 4.4 percent of GDP this year. Judging by the Spanish (un)employment chart, and specifically recent trends therein, we will take the under. And the over on the Enzyte jokes.

 
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IMF Cuts Global Forecast, Sees European Recession, Warns Of 4% Economic Crunch If No Euroarea Action





The latest IMF Global Financial Stability Report is out and it is not pretty. The IMF now sees:

  • 2012 world growth outlook cut to 3.3% from 4.0%, 2013 growth revised lower to 3.9% from 4.5%
  • 2012 US growth of 1.8%, 2013 at 2.2%
  • 2012 UK growth of 0.6%, down from 1.6%
  • 2012 China growth of 8.2%, down from 9.0%
  • Eurozone to enter "mild" recession, whatever that is, with -0.5% economic growth, to grow again in 2013 by 0.8%. Unclear just how with all the deleveraging...

IMF also adds that without action, the debt crisis may force a 4% Euro-area contraction, in line with what the World Bank, controlled by a former Goldmanite, said. Lastly, the IMF says that Europe needs a larger firewall and bank deleveraging limits. Well there is always that €X trillion February 29 LTRO.

 
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Americans Are Deleveraging, But Not Because They Want To





As comparisons between US and European debt to GDP levels and the finger-pointing of who is deleveraging more continues, McKinsey notes (in their quarterly Debt and Deleveraging article) that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the US as private-sector deleveraging has been rapid since 2008. However, reading on a little, we find that the light at the end of the tunnel may well be the front of the oncoming train of financial distress as some two-thirds of the 4% ($584bn) in US household debt deleveraging is from defaults on home-loans (and other consumer debt). Of course, with homebuilder stock prices surging (notably rather dramatically relative to lumber or ABS/CMBS), consensus has once again agreed that the bottom in housing is in. McKinsey's initial forecast that the pent-up foreclosures and implicit deleveraging will bring us back to trend by 2013 seems like a pipe-dream and we tend to agree with their more conservative perspective that reversion in household debt will not be to trend but to pre-credit-bubble levels, implying a 22% further reduction (or a couple more trillion dollars of defaults).

 
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The CDS Market And Anti-Trust Considerations





The CDS index market remains one of the most liquid sources of hedges and positioning available (despite occasional waxing and waning in volumes) and is often used by us as indications of relative flows and sophisticated investor risk appetite. However, as Kamakura Corporation has so diligently quantified, the broad CDS market (specifically including single-names) remains massively concentrated. This concentration, evidenced by the Honolulu-based credit guru's findings that three institutions: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank National Association, have market shares in excess of 19% each has shown little to no reduction (i.e. the market remains as closed as ever) and they warn that this dramatically increases the probability of collusion and monopoly pricing power. We have long argued that the CDS market is valuable (and outright bans are non-sensical and will end badly) as it offers a more liquid (than bonds) market to express a view or more simply hedge efficiently. However, we do feel strongly that CDS (indices especially) should be exchange traded (more straightforward than ever given standardization, electronic trading increases, and clearing) and perhaps Kamakura's work here will be enough to force regulators and the DoJ to finally turn over the rock (as they did in Libor and Muni markets) and do what should have been done in late 2008 when the banks had little to no chips to bargain with on keeping their high margin CDS trading desks in house (though the exchanges would also obviously have to step up to the plate unlike in 2008).

 
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Citi's Contrary FX View: ECB Easing Would Be EUR Positive





One won't find many orthodox strategists who believe that currency printing, and thus dilution, is favorable for said currency. Yet they do exist (as a reminder, this is precisely what saved the REITs back in early 2009, who came to market with massively dilutive follow on offerings, but the fact that they had market access was enough for investors to buy the stock despite the dilution). One among them is Citi's Steven Englander who has released a rather provocative piece in which he claims that as a result of reduction in tail risk, or the possibility of aggressive ECB bond buying (and implicitly, Englander suggests that what we believe is a core correlation: between the sizes of the Fed/ECB balance sheets and the relative value of the respective currencies, is not as important as we suggest), the "EUR will be stronger if the ECB compromises its ‘principles’, but succeeds in convincing investors that the sovereign risk is limited to the smaller peripherals, rather than the core." Currency stronger on central bank printing? And by implication, an x-trillion LTRO being FX positive (and thus risk-FX recoupling)? We have heard stranger things. And remember it is the bizarro market. And finally, Morgan Stanley, which won that shootout with Goldman's Stolper two months ago on the EURUSD, has just turned tactically bullish on the currency (more shortly). For now, here is how Steven Englander explains his contrarian view.

 
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Economic Data Flood Summary: Claims, Housing Noisy, CPI May Return "Disinflation" Talk At FOMC Meeting





First, Initial Claims - the new yoyo.Initial claims drop from revised 402K (as expected) in last week, to 352K this week, 50K swing in one week, on expectations of 384K. All in the seasonal adjustment, which tries to compensate for the 124K drop in Non Seasonally Adjusted claims. Fired bankers and everyone else no longer registers to the B(L)S. This number was below the lowest Wall Street estimate of 363K. Continuing claims: 3.432MM, below expectations of 3.590MM, previous revised naturally higher from 3.628MM to 3.647MM. The reason? People on EUC and Extended benefits in last week: +105,000. More and more people move away from 6 month support to extended 99 week cliff.  Housing Starts and Permits: Largely irrelevant, as crawling at a bottom, but starts at 657K, below expectations of 680K, and down from 685K previously; Permits in line with expectations at 679K, down from 680K before. Fed “clearly concerned with the return of disinflation;” watch for “talk of further central bank action to support the economy” at next week’s FOMC meeting, says Brusuelas

 
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Frontrunning: January 19





  • The Fed's HFT price manipulation code stolen? U.S. Charges Programmer With Stealing Code (Reuters)
  • One million homeowners may get mortgage writedowns: U.S. (Reuters)
  • In MF Global, JPMorgan again at center of a financial failure (Reuters)
  • China's Money Rates Slump After PBOC Injects Money (Reuters)
  • Athens closes in on bondholder pact (FT) - or not
  • Hedge Funds May Sue Greece If Loss Forced (NYT)
  • China Said to Weigh Easing Constraints on Banks as Growth Slows (Bloomberg) - But wasn't a rate cut already priced in on Monday?
  • Obama Under Attack Over Keystone Rejection (FT)
  • Chinese Economy Heads for Soft Landing in 2012 (China Daily) - don't really expect "China Daily" to tell you otherwise
  • Brazil Cuts Interest Rates Further to 10.5% (FT)
  • India to Launch $35bn of Public Investments (FT)
 
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Nomura's Koo Plays The Pre-Blame Game For The Pessimism Ahead





While his diagnosis of the balance sheet recessionary outbreak that is sweeping global economies (including China now he fears) is a useful framework for understanding ZIRP's (and monetary stimulus broadly) general inability to create a sustainable recovery, his one-size-fits-all government-borrow-and-spend to infinity (fiscal deficits during balance sheet recessions are good deficits) solution is perhaps becoming (just as he said it would) politically impossible to implement. In his latest missive, the Nomura economist does not hold back with the blame-bazooka for the mess we are in and face in 2012. Initially criticizing US and now European bankers and politicians for not recognizing the balance sheet recession, Koo takes to task the ECB and European governments (for implementing LTRO which simply papers over the cracks without solving the underlying problem of the real economy suggesting bank capital injections should be implemented immediately), then unloads on the EBA's 9% Tier 1 capital by June 2012 decision, and ends with a significant dressing-down of the Western ratings agencies (and their 'ignorance of economic realities'). While believing that Greece is the lone profligate nation in Europe, he concludes that Germany should spend-it-or-send-it (to the EFSF) as capital flight flows end up at Berlin's gates. Given he had the holidays to unwind, we sense a growing level of frustration in the thoughtful economist's calm demeanor as he realizes his prescription is being ignored (for better or worse) and what this means for a global economy (facing deflationary deleveraging and debt minimization) - "It appears as though the world economy will remain under the spell of the housing bubble collapse that began in 2007 for some time yet" and it will be a "miracle if Europe does not experience a full-blown credit contraction."

 
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$10 TRILLION Liquidity Injection Coming? Credit Suisse Hunkers Down Ahead Of The European Endgame





When yesterday we presented the view from CLSA's Chris Wood that the February 29 LTRO could be €1 Trillion (compared to under €500 billion for the December 21 iteration), we snickered, although we knew quite well that the market response, in stocks and gold, today would be precisely as has transpired. However, after reading the report by Credit Suisse's William Porter, we no longer assign a trivial probability to some ridiculous amount hitting the headlines early in the morning on February 29. Why? Because from this moment on, the market will no longer be preoccupied with a €1 trillion LTRO number as the potential headline, one which in itself would be sufficient to send the Euro tumbling, the USD surging, and provoking an immediate in kind response from the Fed. Instead, the new 'possible' number is just a "little" higher, which intuitively would make sense. After all both S&P and now Fitch expect Greece to default on March 20 (just to have the event somewhat "priced in"). Which means that in an attempt to front-run the unprecedented liquidity scramble that will certainly result as nobody has any idea what would happen should Greece default in an orderly fashion, let alone disorderly, the only buffer is having cash. Lots of it. A shock and awe liquidity firewall that will leave everyone stunned. How much. According to Credit Suisse the new LTRO number could be up to a gargantuan, and unprecedented, €10 TRILLION!

 
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