Rating Agencies

A Quick Take On The European "Marshall Plan"

So far all the news out of Europe is based on changes to EFSF. Greece will be able to borrow for 15 years at 3.5%. French bonds with a 15 year maturity trade at 3.8%. So the EFSF will have to pay more on its debt than it receives? Interesting. Have the rating agencies signed up to rate the new EFSF as AAA? From deals I've worked on, things that always hurt ratings were i) extending maturity, ii) including banks in addition to sovereigns, iii) allowing trading, iv) vague rules as opposed to written rules. The headlines all indicate the new EFSF has all of these components. I am sure the agencies have been involved in these discussions, but I remain dubious how happy the market will be to finance the EFSF at rates that are remotely in line with the rates the EFSF plans to provide financing at. Lots more details likely to come out during the day, but watch for the details. The headlines sound great, but can they be executed. I also noticed somewhere that new lending would be collateralized. If that is true, has anyone asked the borrowers if that makes sense for them?

Latest Update On Debt Ceiling Melodrama

Time for the hourly update on the Congressional soap. The Hill reports that "Congressional Democratic leaders are headed back to the White House on Wednesday for more talks on raising the debt ceiling. White House press secretary Jay Carney announced House and Senate Democratic would meet with Obama at the White House at 2:50 p.m. Obama called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday night." It adds that after the release of a new proposal Tuesday by the bipartisan Senate Gang of Six, Obama told reporters it was time for leaders to "talk turkey" and work to reach a deal. And while there has been a recent increase in voices against the $3.7 trillion "plan", the fate of the McConnell fall back plan, which as expected is the most likely to pass as it is completely toothless, is also looking shaky:"House Democratic leaders are attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) debt-ceiling fallback plan, characterizing it as a political ruse intended to scapegoat Democrats and taint them at the polls. “I’m not a fan of the McConnell proposal,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Tuesday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “It’s designed to protect mostly Republican members of Congress from taking responsibility for votes that they’ve already made." How this plan makes sense in light of Obama's earlier statement that the House would not compromise a debt ceiling plan based on one time increases to the limit, without a long-term debt ceiling extension is unclear, nor is it clear how any of these plans which are simply window dressing will pass muster from the rating agencies, where even Fitch earlier announced any plan would have to be comprehensive for no downgrade of the US to occur. Translated: the CRAs need more stuffing for the Christmas stockings.

Guest Post: ESFS - Has Europe Finally Discovered Alchemy

Markets are better this morning, at least in part because there is renewed hope that Europe will band together and create a new and improved EFSF. This EFSF V3.0 will, allegedly, finally solve the European debt problem. It sounds great on the surface, but is it possible? I think there are problems with virtually every step in the process. The ability for EFSF to retain a AAA rating is dubious, and the willingness of investors to buy an expanded mandate EFSF may not be as great as the politicians believe. Here is a quick summary of many of the problems facing the new EFSF in reality as opposed to in a quick and optimistic press release. Just like the “rollovers” that were announced, the details will prove to be unworkable and will not provide the benefits expected. The last round of EFSF had the Over-Guarantee Percentage increase from 120% to 165%. Italy is the 3rd largest guarantor at 18%, just below France’s 20%. Italy is Aa2 on negative watch at Moody’s and negative outlook at S&P. Spain is the 4th largest guarantor at 12%. It is Aa2/AA on negative outlook at both agencies. So 30% of the guarantees are coming from 2 countries that are rated less than AAA, are on negative outlook, and will likely draw on the EFSF funds? Even the rating agencies must be scratching their head wondering how to let AA entities guarantee themselves and still provide a AAA rating.

Guest Post: Iran Opens Oil Bourse - Harbinger Of Trouble For New York And London?

The last three years of global recession have dealt a major blow to American capitalist ideas trumpeted throughout the world on the value of “free markets.” Wall St has been revealed as a form of casino economy, with the bankster insiders gambling with other people’s, and eventually, the government’s money in the form of bailouts. As the Republicans in Congress, scenting victory in the 2012 presidential elections, hold a gun to the Obama administration’s head and rating agencies consider downgrading U.S. government bonds in light of Washington’s possible defaulting, many ideas around the world that previously seemed implausible because of the dominance of the U.S. economy are garnering renewed interest.

Why The Latest European Bailout, Aka "The Debt Buyback" Plan Is Also DOA, And Why The CDO At The Heart Of The Eurozone Is About To Become Extremely Toxic

Over time many have wondered why the ECB, in order to "extend and pretend", does not simply do an episode of QE and monetize bonds outright? Well, in addition to Germany's flashbacks to hyperinflation which have so far kept Trichet from pursuing an all too aggressive bond buyback program in the primary market, the ECB does have the Securities Market Programme (SMP) which however since inception has bought only €74 billion (this week the number is expected to rise, or, if it doesn't, it confirms that now China is directly buying European bonds in the secondary market). The problem with the SMP is that it was conceived as a modest marginal debt buying program, never intended to surpass much more than a few dozen billion in debt. Alas, by now it is becoming all too clear that the ECB will need to monetize hundreds of billions of insolvent PIIGS debt in order to extend and pretend forcefully enough so that a new bailout is not needed every other week. But how to do it without monetizing debt on the ECB's books? Enter the EFSF, or the off-balance sheet CDO "at the heart of the eurozone" which according to the latest iteration of the European rescue package (Remember that most recent DOA plan to rollover debt? Yep - that's dead) is precisely the mechanism by which Europe's own open market QE is about to take place. "European Central Bank Executive Board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi suggested the EFSF be allowed to provide funds for a buy-back of bonds from the market, where prices have in some cases fallen 50 percent from levels at which the debt was issued. "This would allow the private sector to sell bonds at market prices, which are currently below nominal value. At the same time, the public sector could benefit monetarily," Bini Smaghi told Sunday's To Vima newspaper in an interview." Translated: another market clearing perversion courtesy of the same structured finance abominations that brought us here. The problem, unfortunately, is that Moody's announced nearly two and a half years ago that the whole distressed debt buyback approach is... a dead end, and will lead to the same "event of default" outcome that all the prior bailout plans would have achieved as well (we correctly surmised that Bailout #2 was DOA, about a month before the "efficient" market did). Here is why.

Weekly Chartology, Or How To BS About "Strong Micro" When The Economy Is Below Stall Speed

Never before has the job of Goldman's equity markets strategist been so difficult: on one hand he has to deal with an economy that is openly imploding after a readjustment of Q2 GDP to below subspeed, a drop in Q3 growth from his economic team as of last night to 2.5%, and a growth hockeystick that nobody (except for Joe LaVorgna of course) believes in any more. On the other he has to get paid for spreading propaganda to the firm's whale accounts even as GS is openly selling into any risk rally (Abacus deja vu). And while the latest weekly chartology from David Kostin is already very much outdated, after Jan Hatzius was forced to admit in his latest Friday night bomb installment that our view on the economy (i.e., absent stimulus = game over) is correct, he does make pretty charts. So ignore all the forecasts as they are 100% wrong as usual and focus on the pretty breakdowns of what has already happened. If nothing else, Goldman proves that billions in taxpayer bailout funds and secret Short Term OMO access can sure buy a damn good WP/Graphics department.

Rosenberg On The Debt Ceiling

When it comes to the debt ceiling, we have heard everyone and the kitchen sink's opinion on this issue at this point. Yet one person who has been silent so far is the original skeptic David Rosenberg. Summarized: "Despite the fear mongering, the U.S. government is not going to default. Any backup in bond yields from a failure to cobble together a deal will drive market rates down because of the deflationary implications from the massive fiscal squeeze that would ensue at a time of a huge 5% output gap. Even if there were to be some sort of "buyer's strike" if the U.S. were to be defaulted, rest assured that the Fed would step in aggressively." Obviously to a mega bond bull like Rosenberg, this is the only possible outcome. After all an alternative would mean the central planners have failed, and the most artificially inflated security in the history of man: US bonds, which are only there because they are the "best of all evils" was enjoying an extended "ignore the emperor's nudity" sabbatical... which alas does not change their evilness, nor is this equilibrium stable once more and more realize it is all about gold at the end of the day. And as yesterday demonstrated when existential fear grips the market, the impossible does happen, and both bonds and stocks can sell off, and in the process lead to all time records for gold. Bookmark July 14: it is a harbinger of what is coming.

...Weiss Chimes In: Verdict - C Minus

Weiss Ratings, an independent rating agency of U.S. financial institutions and sovereign debts, has downgraded the debt of the United States government from C to C-minus.

And The Winner, After Bernanke's Humphrey Hawkins Dog & Pony Show, By Unanimous Decision Is.... Gold

Stocks dumping, dollar at all time lows against a plethora of FX pairs, while gold (and silver) is sticky as superglue and remains just a few dollars away from its all time nominal highs, and just short of $1,600, which we expect will be taken out as soon as the world realizes that the Greek 2 Year spread to Bunds is now over 30% and that Europe is not fixed. Perhaps Bernanke would like to take another stab at that whole "is gold money" question...