For all complaints about painful, unprecedented (f)austerity, the PIIGS (even those with restructured debt such as Greece) sure have no problems raking up debt at a record pace. Over the weekend, Spanish Expansion reported that Spanish official debt (ignoring the contingent liabilities) just hit a new record. "The debt of the whole general government reached 942.8 billion euros in the second quarter, representing an increase of 17.1% compared to the same period last year. Debt to GDP of 92.2% exceeds the limit set by the government for 2013..." Moments ago, it was Italy's turn to show that with employment still plunging, the only thing rising in Europe is total debt. From Reuters, which cites a draft Treasury document it just obtained: "Italy's public debt will rise next year to a new record of 132.2 percent of output, up from a previous forecast of 129.0 percent."
- Cyprus leader invites family firm probe (FT)
- How the Fed fueled an explosion in subprime auto loans (Reuters)
- Wal-Mart Customers Complain Bare Shelves Are Widespread (BBG)
- JC Penney CEO gets no bonus, stock award after dismal year (Reuters)
- New Bird Flu Virus Kills 2 in China, Sparking WHO Probe (BBG)
- Algorithms Play Matchmaker to Fight 7.7% U.S. Unemployment (BBG)
- Fed hawk Lacker and dove Evans face off over inflation (Reuters)
- Infamous silver market "cornerer" WH Hunt Becomes Billionaire on Bakken Oil After Bankruptcy (BBG)
- Japan Auto Sales Fall on Subsidy End as Korea Extends Drop (BBG)
- Black Hawks Near North Korea Show Risk in U.S. Command Shift (BBG)
- SEC Embraces Social Media (WSJ)
- Tesla Touts ‘True Out of Pocket’ Financing for Model S (BBG)
- U.K. Banks Try to Dodge Bonus Caps by Defining Risk-Taker (BBG)
The ongoing debacle surrounding Argentina's holdout over holdouts appears to be escalating (in rhetoric at least) once again. As Reuters notes, negotiations or voluntary payment by Fernandez's government appear almost impossible. Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino called Griesa's ruling "a kind of judicial colonialism". "The only thing left is for Griesa to order them to send in the (U.S. Navy's) Fifth Fleet," Lorenzino told reporters, outlining Argentina's plans to file an appeal against Griesa's ruling with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Monday. Many specialists think it unlikely that the appeals court will reinstate the stay. "It may be an issue of process, but Argentina will struggle to justify why it refuses to pay the $1.3 billion," Eurasia Group analyst Daniel Kerner wrote last week. "Argentina has the resources to meet the payment, so in the end it will be a political decision (and) there does not seem to be any political support for paying the holdouts at all." The Argentina case surely brings into clear view the murkiness of investing in sovereign debt and the increasing difference between ability-to-pay and willingness-to-pay.
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Eurozone won’t be destroyed in a day, but it is on a path that leads to eventual dismantling. This week we will see everyone play nice. Conciliatory words will be spoken. Growth will become the topic de jour. The markets will fall all over themselves once again on news of bank bailouts. The headlines we get in the early part of this week will once again be overwhelmingly designed to encourage people and the markets. Europe will have a new spirit of co-operation and will welcome fresh insights into the process. Growth, growth pacts, plans to grow, infrastructure growth, etc., will be talked about. There will be talk, and maybe even action on the bank recapitalization efforts. Good banks and bad banks will abound. Governments will promise money to banks at rates so low no sane investor would even consider. Ultimately these plans will fail, and we will see fresh lows on the year for stocks, with the U.S. and Germany hit hardest as justifying further bailouts for the core will be nigh on impossible, growth is not easy to achieve, and the good-bank-bad-bank model is a loser from the start.
Going into the US open, European equity markets have carried across some risk appetite from last night’s Wall Street news that 15 out of 19 major US banks had passed the Fed’s stress test scenarios. This risk appetite is evident in Europe today with financials outperforming all other sectors, currently up over 2%. Data released so far today has been relatively uneventful, with Eurozone CPI coming in alongside expectations and Industrial Production just below the expected reading for January. Taking a look at the energy complex, WTI and Brent crude futures are seen on a slight downwards trajectory so far in session following some overnight comments from China, highlighting the imbalance in the Chinese property market, dampening future demand for oil. Looking ahead in the session, the DOE crude oil inventories will shed further light on the current standing of US energy inventories.
As the week's panacea event (no, not iPad3) draws ever closer, overnight news our of Argentina may be critical for any fence-sitting Greek PSI holdouts. As Reuters reports, a US judge has ruled in favor of a holdout creditor forcing Argentina to pay $650mm interest and principal on their long-forgotten defaulted/restructured debt. Argentina defaulted on $100bn bonds in 2002 and has yet to return to the international capital markets. While the Argentinians continue to litigate holdouts, the judge's decision in favor of these so-called 'vulture funds' (an affiliate of Elliott Management) offers renewed confirmation of considerable payouts in time for Greek bond PSI holdouts. Argentina's whiny reasoning that "bondholders who did not take part in the 2005 and 2010 debt swaps do not deserve full recovery because it is unfair to bondholders who accepted less" sums up the perspective of cram-downs and forced action that sovereigns will try to take. The vulture-fund litigation (and successful precedent here) blocks any new debt operations by Argentina until settlement is reached. This coincides with Bingham McCutchen's committee of Swiss-law Greek bond holders who look set to holdout or 'protect the rights of bondholders' as there appears to be several investors actively considering all of their options, including litigation - but as noted above, litigation can take years (though returns could conceivably be very large given par payouts of bonds trading sub-20% currently).
My thoughts on the coming year.
David Rosenberg provides the key bulletized market observations that have marked the broad capital markets over the past few months.
- $950 billion of paper equity wealth has been wiped off the map in the past six weeks.
- The Dow is below 12,000 for the first time since March 18th.
- The Transports are down more than 8% from the nearby highs and are down for the year as well
- The Transports/Utilities ratio has broken down to its lowest level since November 9th of last year.
- The Nasdaq is now down for the year (-0.3%)
- The Russell 2000 index is also down for the year (-0.5%).
- The S&P 500 is just 1.1% away from seeing the same fate.
- The S&P 500 has declined in each of the past six weeks, the longest losing streak since June-July 2008.
...And much more
Chairman Bernanke has placed himself in a box. It is not a box of his choosing, but rather the result of his misguided economic beliefs, use of flawed statistical data, geo-political events occurring during his watch, poor decisions and a penchant for political pandering. Some of these may be requirements for academia success but not for leading global financial markets during turbulent times. It is time for Professor Bernanke to return to the collegial setting of Princeton University while the world still has time to correct the path he has mistakenly set us on. I was angry during most of former Chairman Greenspan's tenure because of his persistent use of liquidity pumping to solve every problem from Y2K to the Peso crisis. Greenspan's inability to see a bubble two inches from his nose and yet still pontificate about irrational exuberance, rather than taking the punch bowl away from the party, incited me. Bernanke does not affect me that way. He simply disappoints and leaves a taste like eating dry shredded wheat, with the hope of a child, to eventually get the prize at the bottom of the box. Character flaws show during times of stress. Honesty, integrity, value systems and beliefs are put to test and are highlighted under the public media microscope. I'm sure Chairman Bernanke is a nice guy, loved by his family but he is missing a backbone. On April 27th, 2011, that will become obvious to all.
As you have all read by now, Corus Bancshares went belly up on Friday adding yet another failed institution to the growing hall of shame. What makes Corus unique, however, is that they may have been the first failure with little to no delinquencies in their major loan portfolios.