Ratings Agencies

Fiscal Cliff Loose Ends

The fiscal cliff deal appears to be a done deal and markets have reacted accordingly (although President Obama is apparently awaiting a photo-op later today to sign it). However, the deal leaves a large number of loose ends that ensure high drama for the next two months on the US fiscal front. The immediate impact of all the loose ends and deadlines may be smaller than the Dec 31 fiscal cliff, but all of these loose ends are important and could lead to short-term price action. Several of them are very important for the long run USD outlook as well.

Guest Post: Fiscal Cliff Contingencies

The divergence between consumers and producers within the real economy that has stumped economists for the better part of 2012 can, at least in part, be attributed to the Fiscal Cliff; but the anticipatory effects of the Fiscal Cliff on the United States of America evidently began with American politicians, and probably for the worse, that is where it will end. The division that has plagued Washington has grown starker in recent years, and the divergence between consumers and producers as a result of divided leadership stands as a testament to the irresponsibility of those sent to Washington D.C. to serve their country. These divergences cannot last forever, and depending on the events of the next couple weeks, the United States is due for a reversion to the mean. The direction of that reversion - either production up to meet consumption or consumption down to meet production and confirm a recession within the United States - is wholly on the shoulders of the politicians in Washington D.C.

17 Macro Surprises For 2013

Just as Byron Wien publishes his ten surprises for the upcoming year, Morgan Stanley has created a heady list of seventeen macro surprises across all countries they cover that depict plausible possible outcomes that would represent a meaningful surprise to the prevailing consensus. From the "return of inflation" to 'Brixit' and from the "BoJ buying Euro-are bonds" to a "US housing recovery stall out" - these seventeen succinctly written paragraphs provide much food for thought as we enter 2013.

Greece 'Selective Default' And Geithner's 'Selective Memory'

Late last night S&P placed Greece into “Selective Default” again, raising the issues, once again, of the $90 billion in Greek derivatives, the Greek bank bonds guaranteed by the country and now at the ECB, some central banks and some commercial banks where some clause may get triggered, various clauses in repos, inter-bank lending contracts and guarantees by Athens of various corporate entities all potentially seeing triggers. In the meantime, because Americans hate to be left out of anything, we continue to behave like fools. The raising of the tax rate on the wealthy will operate the country for about eight days and it seems like the savants in Washington have forgotten that there are three hundred and forty-eight days left in the year. Secretary Geithner’s ,“We are prepared to go over the fiscal cliff,” has all of the dramatics of some bluff on World Wide Poker. The focus on redistribution of wealth is a secondary consideration when you cannot pay your bills. We propose that unhappy Americans unite, buy the Abaco islands from the Bahamas, they need the money, and begin our own island nation and let the 46.5 million on food stamps fend for themselves. We honestly feel that way some days as the idiocy in Washington D.C. seems to recognize no boundaries.

Yelling 'Fundamentals' In A Crowded 'Corporate Bond Market'

Thanks in large part to the supply-constructing yield-compressing repression of a few 'apparently well meaning' bad men running the central banks of the world, the divergence between fundamental weakness and credit spread 'strength' is at record levels. The overwhelming 'technical' flow of funds from investors combined with an 'end of equity' cult and belief that tail-risks have been removed (OMT) juxtaposes with earnings crumbling, ratings downgrades, and the exogenous fact that a complex system means a systemic crisis is inevitable (especially after such ongoing volatility suppression). As Citi's Matt King notes, while "it is almost impossible to predict exactly when they start," the desperation for yield has led to highly unstable equilibria - as what investors can't earn they will lever; via lower-quality 'levered' assets (PIKs and BB/CCCs for example) or 'levered' vehicles (CLOs and structured credit). Sure enough, margins (street repo haircuts are low and NYSE margin accounts high) look very 2007-like. While yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater will typically get the people moving, it seems the movie that is playing in corporate credit is simply too engrossing for many to listen.

Why I Paid Up For That Negotiations Class

Senator Reid’s frustration that progress had stalled as he blamed the Republicans for not bargaining fairly in trying to iron out a compromise signaled to Speaker Boehner that the Democrats will play hardball as well. However, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article, via quotes from Erskine Bowles, claimed the White House will be flexible when proposing a raise to the top marginal tax rate.  This perceived increase in the probability of a near term accord appropriately rallied stocks aggressively. We question why Mr. Obama would leak his best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) so early in the process, for classic bargaining strategy suggests keeping that information close to the vest as long as possible. Complicating matters, Mr. Obama declared a preference to strike a deal by Christmas which approximates the Friday, December 21 “zero barrier”.  Ironically, if the Republicans acquiesce to yesterday’s posturing by Mr. Bowles, then the likelihood of a Moody’s and/or Fitch downgrade rises, for the ratings agencies would almost assuredly be disappointed by a lower than anticipated level of incremental revenues.

 

Rah, Rah, Rah And The European Cheerleaders

Listening to Rehn, Van Rompuy, Juncker and their cohorts is rather like listening to the cheerleaders at the football game and their advice on financial matters is probably right in-line with the knowledge of the cheerleaders; but then I don’t want to insult the cheerleaders. Everything is always “good, fine, hailed, welcomed” and the sunrise is always moments away. Europe officially entered into a recession it was just announced this morning. The economy in Europe is so bad now that a picture is only worth two hundred words. The Europeans blame everything on the ratings agencies lately. There is some wisdom to this. “Moody” is how they are feeling and “Standard & Poor” is what they will be feeling soon. Recently in Spain it was reported that a teacher asked one of her students what his father did for a living. The little boy said his father did a striptease in one of the clubs in Madrid. The teacher was shocked and asked if this was true. The young fellow said, “No, he is the head of corporate credit for Bankia but I am too embarrassed to tell anyone.”

Spanish Banks May Face €17 Billion Margin Call As ECB Found To Lie About Collateral Haircuts

Mario Draghi has reassured the world that no matter how much 'crap' collateral is taken on to the ECB's balance sheet, their risk management process is rigorous and ensures the safety of the entity's capital thanks to well-devised haircuts and collateral. Once again, it appears from a report in Die Welt (via Bloomberg), Draghi lied, as the ECB is now checking terms on some lending to Spanish banks that may have already contravened the ECB's mandate allowing overly generous terms to be offered on the Spanish banks' collateral. As Bloomberg notes, the issue surrounds EUR80bn relatively short-dated T-Bills which were wrongly classified as rated 'A' instead of the 'B' that agencies - except DBRS! - had assigned (a vast difference) - which would imply (if the ECB re-assigns the correct rating) the affected Spanish banks would have to produce up to EUR16.6bn in additional collateral (cash or quality collateral that is non-existent in Europe). This of course "casts doubt on the quality of the ECB's risk management" and merely serves to confirm the Juncker-ian lies we have come to expect from Europe's leaders (economic and political). As Die Welt notes: "Critical observers ask: who actually controls the ECB?"