European bourses are trading in positive territory ahead of the North American following a relatively quiet morning in Europe. Markets are led by the financials sector, currently trading up around 1.10%. This follows yesterday’s ECB LTRO. As such, the 3-month Euribor fix has fallen to 0.967%, a significant fall in inter-bank lending costs. PMI Manufacturing data released earlier today came in roughly in line with preliminary estimates. The Eurozone unemployment rate for February has also been released, showing the highest jobless rate since October 1997. There has been little in the way of currency moves so far in the session; however there may be fluctuations in USD pairs following the release of ISM Manufacturing data and weekly jobless claims later today.
As good news appears to be bad news for now and the hopes of imminent dovish QE3-gasms gets pushed off a week or two, we thought it useful to dig into the mysterious central bank go-to play in a little more detail. Morgan Stanley's European Economics Team asks and answers five of the most frequently discussed questions with regard quantitative easing. From whether QE has worked to inflation fears and concerns over policy normalization and what happens if the public lose confidence in central bank liabilities, we suspect these questions, rather dovishly answered by the MS team, will reappear sooner rather than later, and as they interestingly note, the deployment of central bank balance sheets is, in essence, a confidence trick.
With the second version of the ECB's enhanced LTRO (back-door QE) starting tomorrow, there has been a great deal of speculation on what the take-up will be, what banks will do with the funds they receive, and more importantly how will this effect global asset markets. SocGen provides a comprehensive top-down analysis of the drivers of LTRO demand, the likely uses of those funds, and estimates how much of this will be used to finance the carry trade (placebo or no placebo). Italian (25%) and Spanish (20%) banks are unsurprisingly at the forefront in their take-up of ECB liquidity (likely undertaking the M.A.D. reach-around carry trade ) and have been since long before the first LTRO. On the other side, German banks have dramatically reduced their collective share of ECB liquidity from 30% to only 6%. SocGen skews their detailed forecast to EUR300-400bn, disappointing relative to the near EUR500bn consensus - and so likely modestly bad news for risk assets. Furthermore, they expect around EUR116bn of this to be used for carry trade 'revenue' production which will however lead to only a 0.6% improvement in sectoral equity levels (though some banks will benefit more than others), as they discuss the misunderstanding of LTRO-to-ECB-deposit facility rotation. We, however, remind readers that collateralized (and self-subordinating) debt is not a substitute for capital and if the ECB adamantly defines this as the last enhanced LTRO (until the next one of course) then European banks face an uphill battle without that crutch - whether or not they even have collateral to post. Its further important to note that LTRO 2 cannot be wholly disentangled from the March 1-2 EU Summit event risk and we fear expectations, priced into markets, are a little excessive. We suspect this will not be a Goldilocks 'just right' moment.
Yes, the Federal government can cover up the damage by borrowing 10% of GDP each and every year ($1.5 trillion, and don't forget to add in the off-budget "supplementary appropriations"), and the Federal Reserve can add trillions in quantitative easing stimulus, but even adding $8 trillion of borrowed/printed money to the economy over the past four years has had remarkably little effect on the private-sector economy. That does not bode well for the "recovery."
The better tone in risk markets is largely being driven by encouraging economic data from the US and Europe, which as a result saw Bunds trade in negative territory. Of note, ECB’s Liikanen has said that inflation is not a particular concern in Europe, adding that the ECB has never said that there is an interest rate floor. On the other hand, Gilts are being supported by comments from BoE’s Fisher, as well as less than impressive GDP report. Nevertheless, EUR/USD took out touted barrier at the 1.3400 level earlier in the session, while USD/JPY is trading in close proximity to an intraday option expiry at 80.60.
2012 is proving to be the 'Year of the Central Bank'. It is an exciting celebration of all the wonderful maneuvers central banks can employ to keep the system from falling apart. Western central banks have gone into complete overdrive since last November, convening, colluding and printing their way out of the mess that is the Eurozone. The scale and frequency of their maneuvering seems to increase with every passing week, and speaks to the desperate fragility that continues to define much of the financial system today.... All of this pervasive intervention most likely explains more than 90 percent of the market's positive performance this past January. Had the G6 NOT convened on swaps, had the ECB NOT launched the LTRO programs, and had Bernanke NOT expressed a continuation of zero interest rates, one wonders where the equity indices would trade today. One also wonders if the European banking system would have made it through December. Thank goodness for "coordinated action". It does work in the short-term.... But what about the long-term? What are the unintended consequences of repeatedly juicing the system? What are the repercussions of all this money printing? We can think of a few.
A lesson to be learnt from the individuals who continue to buy European Debt
When the prospect of a nation being unable to roll over a paltry few Euros of maturing debt is enough to galvanise the entire financial world into monetary excess exceeding anything imaginable as recently as late 2007, one must conclude that the markets are skating on the thinnest ice in their entire existence. But skate they are.
Today, Rand’s fictional world has seemingly become a reality – endless bailouts and economic stimulus for the unproductive at the expense of the most productive, and calls for additional taxation on capital investment. The shrug of Rand’s heroic entrepreneurs is to be found today within the tangled ciphers of corporate and government balance sheets. The US Federal Reserve has added more than $2 trillion to the base money supply since 2008 – an incredible and unprecedented number that is basically a gift to banks intended to cover their deep losses and spur lending and investment. Instead, as banks continue their enormous deleveraging, almost all of their new money remains at the Fed in the form of excess reserves. Corporations, moreover, are holding the largest amounts of cash, relative to assets and net worth, ever recorded. And yet, despite what pundits claim about strong balance sheets, firms’ debt levels, relative to assets and net worth, also remain near record-high levels. Hoarded cash is king. The velocity of money (the frequency at which money is spent, or GDP relative to base money) continues to plunge to historic lows. No wonder monetary policy has had so little impact. Capital, the engine of economic growth, sits idle – shrugging everywhere.
Are we really in an economic recovery or is it a figment of the Fed's quantitative easing? This will be the biggest factor in the 2012 elections.
While all the focus has been on Greece in recent days, the global nature of the debt crisis came to the fore yesterday and overnight. This was seen in the further desperate measures by the BOJ and Moodys warning that the UK could lose its AAA rating. Some of us have been saying for some years that this was inevitable but markets remain myopic of the risks posed by this. Possibly the greatest risk is that of the appalling US fiscal situation which continues to be downplayed and not analysed appropriately. President Obama unveiled a massive $3.8 trillion budget yesterday and he is to increase Federal spending by 53% to $5.820 trillion by 2022. The US government is projected to spend over $6 trillion a year by 2022. Still bizarrely unaccounted for is the ticking time bomb of unfunded entitlement liabilities - Social Security and Medicare, which Washington continues to deal with by completely ignoring them. While Washington and markets are for now ignoring the fiscal train wreck that is the US. This will change with inevitable and likely extremely negative consequences for markets – particularly US bond markets and for the dollar.
In a move that will surely shock, shock, the monetary purists out there, the Bank of Japan has just gone and done what we predicted back in May 2011, with the first of our "Hyprintspeed" series articles: "A Look At The BOJ's Current, And Future, Quantitative Easing" (the second one which discussed the imminent advent of the ¥1 quadrillion in total debt threshold was also fulfilled three weeks ago). So just what did the BOJ do? Why nothing short of join the ECB, the BOE, and the Fed (and don't get us started on those crack FX traders at the SNB) in electronically printing even more 1 and 0-based monetary equivalents (full statement here). From WSJ: "The Bank of Japan surprised markets Tuesday by implementing new easing policies and moving closer to an explicit price target, the latest sign of growing worries around the world about the ripple effects of the European debt crisis on the global economy. With interest rates already close to zero, the BOJ has relied in recent months on asset purchases to stimulate the economy. In Tuesday's meeting, the central bank expanded that plan by ¥10 trillion, or about $130 billion. The facility, which includes low-cost loans, is now worth about ¥65 trillion, or $844 billion." The rub however lies in the total Japanese GDP, which at last check was $6 trillion (give or take), and declining. Which means this announcement was the functional equivalent to a surprise $325 billion QE announced by the Fed. What is ironic is the market reaction: the BOJ expands its LSAP by 18% and the USDJPY moves by 30 pips. As for gold, not a peep: as if the market has now priced in that the world's central banks will dilute themselves to death. Unfortunately, it is only at death, and the failure of all status quo fiat paper, that the real value of the yellow metal, whose metallic nature continues to be suppressed via paper pathways, will truly shine.
Everything you always wanted to know about LTRO but were afraid to read.
The prophetic words of Antal Fekete in his now infamous 'essay' on Gold are as relevant now (perhaps more so) as they were when he first wrote them 15 years ago - especially as the Euro-zone migrates from lossening fiat-money to quasi-money (greek pharma bonds for instance). While summarizing this must-read discussion of mainstream economic orthodoxy's mis-teachings is impractical, his initial introduction sets the stage for what is to come: "The year 1971 was a milestone in the history of money and credit. Previously, in the world's most developed countries, money (and hence credit) was tied to a positive value: the value of a well-defined quantity of a good of well-defined quality. In 1971 this tie was cut. Ever since, money has been tied not to positive but to negative values -- the value of debt instruments." After a brief, clarifying history of money, Fekete goes on to discuss the misnomers of currency depreciation, gold as wealth, the failings of kicking the can, quantitative easing, and finally in the misunderstanding of interest rates themselves - seeing them as nothing more than merely bribe-money, trying to persuade reluctant holders of irredeemable promises to hang on a while longer. Paradoxically, gold's importance is growing while its dispersal from official hoards and the mines continues apace. Dispersed gold represents latent power, far greater in scope than its nominal market value, as sound credit can be built only upon a gold base.
Hands up anyone who is surprised that the Bank of England has added another £50 billion to the quantitative easing pot? The same hands will also believe that the Greeks have agreed terms for the next bail out tranche with the Troika (the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank). This ongoing epic odyssey of the voyage to nowhere has grabbed the headlines, but the BoE’s quiet announcement is equally significant to us Brits. Central banks never utter the words quantitative easing, so the Bank calls it an addition to its “asset purchase programme”, which was only hiked to £275 billion back in October. The accompanying rhetoric states that inflation is on the way back down and may fall below their target of 2%, mainly as a result of the VAT increase last January falling out of the equation and lower energy prices, (despite Brent crude being over 10% higher Y-o-Y in sterling terms..); a convenient excuse perhaps.