Open Market Operations
Blythe Masters On The Blogosphere, Silver Manipulation, Gold-Axed Clients And Doing The "Wrong" ThingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/05/2012 13:53 -0500
For all those who have long been curious what the precious metals "queen" thinks about allegations involving her and her fimr in gold and silver manipulation, how JPMorgan is positioned in the precious metals market, and how she views the fringe elements of media, as well as JPMorgan's ethical limitations to engaging in 'wrong' behavior, the answers are all here.
With volatility so low and risk seemingly removed from any- and every-one's vernacular, perhaps it is time to refresh our perspective on downside and tail-risk concerns. While most think only in terms of equity derivatives as serving to create a tail-wagging-the-dog type of reflexive move, there is a growing and increasingly liquid (just like the old days with CDOs, so be warned) market for options on CDS. Concentrated in the major and most liquid indices, swaption volumes have risen notably as have gross and net notional outstandings. Puts and Calls on credit risk - known as Payers and Receivers (Payers being the equivalent of a put option on a bond, or call option on its spread) have been actively quoted since 2006 but the last 2-3 years has seen their popularity increase as a 'cheap' way to protect (or take on) credit risk - most specifically tail risk scenarios. Morgan Stanley recently published another useful primer on these instruments - as the sell-side's new favorite wide-margin offering to wistful buy-siders and wannabe quants - noting the three main uses for swaptions as Hedging, Upside, and Yield Enhancement. These all have their own nuances but as spreads compress and managers look for ever more inventive ways to add yield so the specter of negative gamma appears - chasing markets up into rallies and down into sell-offs - and the inevitable rips and gaps this causes can wreak havoc in markets that have momentum anyway. Given the leverage and average notionals involved, understanding this seemingly niche space may become very important if we see another tail risk flare and as the Fed knows only too well (as it suggested here) like selling Treasury Puts, derivatives on credit are for more effective at establishing directional moves in the the underlying than simple open market operations.
Yesterday, Ben Bernanke dedicated his entire first propaganda lecture to college student to the bashing of the gold standard. Of course, he has his prerogatives: he has to validate a crumbling monetary system and the legitimacy of the Fed, first to schoolchildrden and then to soon to be college grads encumbered in massive amounts of non-dischargeable student loans. While it is decidedly arguable that the gold standard may or may not have led to the first Great Depression, there is no debate at all that it was sheer modern monetary insanity and bubble blowing (by the very same professor!) that brought us to the verge of collapse in the Second Great Depression in 2008, which had nothing to do with the gold standard. And as usual there is always an other side to the story. Presenting that here today, is Antal Fekete with "The Gold Problem Revisited."
It was one short week ago that both Australia surprised with hotter than expected inflation (and no rate cut), and a Chinese CPI print that was far above expectations. Yet in confirmation of Dylan Grice's point that when it comes to "inflation targeting" central planners are merely the biggest "fools", this morning we woke to find that the PBOC has cut the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) by another largely theatrical 50 bps. As a reminder, RRR cuts have very little if any impact, compared to the brute force adjustment that is the interest rate itself. As to what may have precipitated this, the answer is obvious - a collapsing housing market (which fell for the fourth month in a row) as the below chart from Michael McDonough shows, and a Shanghai Composite that just refuses to do anything (see China M1 Hits Bottom, Digs). What will this action do? Hardly much if anything, as this is purely a demonstrative attempt to rekindle animal spirits. However as was noted previously, "The last time they stimulated their CPI was close to 2%. It's 4.5% now, and blipping up." As such, expect the latent pockets of inflation where the fast money still has not even withdrawn from to bubble up promptly. That these "pockets" happen to be food and gold is not unexpected. And speaking of the latter, it is about time China got back into the gold trade prim and proper. At least China has stopped beating around the bush and has now joined the rest of the world in creating the world's biggest shadow liquidity tsunami.
Heading into the North American open, EU equity indices are trading lower following reports that Eurozone Finance Ministers have dismissed as incomplete a budget presented to them by the Greek party leaders. In addition to that, EU lawmakers have warned Greece of more intensive involvement in the Greek economy to improve tax collection and accelerate the sale of state-owned assets. The Greek Finance Minister Venizelos said that Greece must make a “final, strategic” decision Greek membership in the Eurozone over the next six days as it decides on new austerity and reform measures or faces leaving the single currency. However, according to sources, German finance minister told MPs, Greek reform plans would bring debt to 136% of GDP by 2020, instead of targeted 120%. So it remains to be seen as to whether Greece will be able to meet the looming redemptions in March. Of note, analysts at Fitch said that the ongoing Greece talks stating that the country must secure an agreement to cut its debt burden in the next few days to prevent a “disorderly” default.
With Fed officials a laughing stock (both inside and outside the realm of FOMC minutes), Bank of Japan officials ever-watching eyes, and ECB officials in both self-congratulatory (Draghi) and worryingly concerned on downgrades (Nowotny), the world's central bankers appear, if nothing else, convinced that all can be solved with the printing of some paper (and perhaps a measure of harsh words for those naughty spendaholic politicians). The dramatic rise in central bank balance sheets and just-as-dramatic fall in asset quality constraints for collateral are just two of the items that UBS's economist Larry Hatheway considers as he asks (and answers) the critical question of just how safe are central banks. As he sees bloated balance sheets relative to capital and the impact when 'stuff happens', he discusses why the Eurozone is different (no central fiscal authority backstopping it) and notes it is less the fear of large losses interfering with liquidity provision directly but the more massive (and explicit) intrusion of politics into the 'independent' heart of central banking that creates the most angst. While he worries for the end of central bank independence (most specifically in Europe), we remind ourselves of the light veil that exists currently between the two and that the tooth fairy and santa don't have citizen-suppressing printing presses.
When one has $2.9 trillion in costless AUM (because if the cost is breached, one just doubles down, especially if one prints the money), it is not all that surprising to generate $77 billion in profits in one year (think of the hubris emanating from that particular year end letter), or even $385 billion in profits in the past 10 years. Yet it is still a stunning number considering the rest of the $2 trillion hedge fund industry lost about 10% in 2011. Which is why we all bow down to what is without doubt the world's most lucrative and profitable generator of P&L in history: the Federal Reserve, which for the second year in a row has printed (pun intended) over $70 billion in profits. And who is the lucky LP? Why the US Treasury of course, which for the second year in a row will pocket all the proceeds from PM Ben's immaculate trading perfection. Of course, there is one caveat for this spotless performance sheet: what happens when Fed interest expense surpasses interest income? But why worry - everyone tells us this can never happen, so it obviously can never happen...
SocGen explains why the €490 billion LTRO number is misleading and why, net of rolls, the actual new liquidity is about 60% lower. In other news, don't forget to add €210 billion in net "assets" to the ECB's already record balance sheet of €2.494 trillion, bringing it to a fresh new record of €2.7 trillion, or $3.5 trillion. At what point will the market start asking questions of the world's most insolvent Frankfurt-based hedge fund (which has repeatedly said it refuses to print cash to cover capital shortfalls) we wonder.
At this point it is clear that there is no single person in America, and possibly the planet who can influence markets as much as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. The president may have more overall power (possibly) but in terms of moving markets for weeks at a time, that power primarily belongs to Mr. Bernanke. An unelected official with almost total control over the “board” he chairs. Some have argued whether the Fed should even exist. Peter Tchir doesn’t go that far (it is beyond his scope), and it is understandable why the Fed needs some independence. But we don’t understand why Bernanke isn’t accountable or why there aren’t limits.
We believe that the issue of primary dealer status – the role of the primary dealers, the significance of foreign firms and their importance in the primary dealer process, versus domestic US firms – needs to be examined. It needs to be aired publically.
Yesterday, Barclays' Ben Powell of macro sales sent out the following note to clients, which referenced a as of then unconfirmed report in the China Securities Journal: "China putting 1Tr RMB into its banks?? Very positive no? The attached bloomberg story suggests that China may inject >Tr1 Yuan into its banks deposits before the end of the year. This is a meaningful number vs the Tr7.5 RMB that the banks are expected to lend in 2011 as a whole. So what? 2 things. Most obviously this is cheap liquidity to Chinese banks that should see SHIBOR continue to fall and banks shares to rise. And secondly more broadly this would seem to suggest (again) that the rumours of easing are true. This will add fuel to the soft landing argument that I have been pushing. Remain long Chinese banks on very simple easing + bearishness = up thesis." Granted the Barclays spin was to go long China (incidentally just in time for the biggest drop in the Chinese market since October 20), but the real take home here is that China is now actively pumping money to bail out its own banks once again! And not just token money - €158.2 bilion. So how much money will be left to fund the European bailout which is oh so contingent on Chinese generosity? The short answer? Pretty much nothing, as confirmed by the fact that today's €3 billion EFSF deal was underbid and the underwriters were left holding about €500 million of the total issue. As usual, good luck Europe with your multifunctional Swiss EFSF Army knife.
We are all quite aware of the fact that heightened volatility has become a short term norm in the financial markets as of late. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing the same thing in a number of recent economic surveys. The most current poster child example being the Philly Fed survey that has shown us historic month over month whipsaw movement over the last few months. Movement measured in standard deviation parameters has been breathtaking. All part of a “new normal” in volatility? For now, yes. But over the very short term economic surveys and stats have been taking a back seat in driving investor behavior and decision making in deference to the “promise” of ever more money printing. Of course this time the central bank wizardry will happen across the pond, although the US Fed is also now back to carrying out it’s own modest permanent open market operations (money printing) relatively quietly, but consistently, as of late. Although over the short term “money makes the world go ‘round”, we need to remember that historic money printing in the US in recent years only acted to offset asset value contraction in the financial sector and did not lead to macro credit cycle acceleration engendering meaningful aggregate demand and GDP expansion. And we should expect a Euro money printing experience to be different? Seriously?
We'll have to see what hits the fan this week.
It was fun while the Liesman rumormill lasted:
- Italy CDS +12 bps to 460
- Spain CDS + 8 bps to 375
- Portugal CDS + 10 bps to 1,110
- Ireland CDS + 18 bps to 736
- Greece CDS: Many points upfront but running joke
And in other news Germany just barely auctioned off E5 billion in 5 year bonds (Bobls) at the lowest Bid To Cover since the inception of the Euro.
You are being lied to. There is currently more than sufficient evidence that indicates that we are either in, or about to be in, a recession. The last time I made that statement was in December of 2007. In December of 2008 the National Bureau of Economic Research stated that we were correct. I don't make statements like that lightly and, honestly, I hope I am wrong as this is a horrible time for the economy to relapse. However, the reason that I bring this up is that there have been numerous analysts and economists stating that the economy cannot be going into recession due to the spread between various sets of interest rates. (For the purpose of this report we will focus on the spread between the 1-year Treasury bond and the 10-year Treasury note.) Historically speaking they would be correct and I will explain why.