With the combination of a strong quarter (week or two) for stocks, futures rolls (and CDS yesterday) and the OPEX / index re-weighting it seems we had a modest case of small doors, large crowds into the close today (S&P futures end 1pt above FOMC-day close). Volume picked up dramatically (NYSE highest in a year) as the Dow closed lower on a Friday for the first time in nine weeks! Treasuries outperformed - ending near the low yields of the week (having retraced all the post-QE move - down 10-15bps on the week) but Gold remained relatively bid ($1775) and Oil also rose in the last couple of days. VIX was unch but noisy thanks to OPEX (and remember it's still at a high premium to realized vol - not entirely complacent). Credit underperformed as risk-assets in general led stocks lower. On the quarter, Silver was the big winner (up ~26%) followed by Gold (up ~11%) both beating all the major US equity indices.
Equity markets rallied into the close (pre-OPEX and index re-weightings tomorrow) to end near their highs for the day but this was only enough to get back to practically unchanged. The Dow was the only index to manage a green close on the day-session (as AAPL dragged NASDAQ lower and the S&P couldn't get above Tuesday's or Wednesday's closing levels). With the CDS market rolling today (and indices being recomposed), we saw a somewhat unusual selling pressure into the roll - suggesting many credit longs were less than willing to roll that long into the new index (though technicals do make this uncertain). HYG underperformed. Stocks seemed to levitate back up to track Gold and the afternoon's weakness in Treasuries (unch on the day but 3-4bps higher in the afternoon) and strength in Oil dragged risk-assets more in sync with stocks (after suggesting weakness in the middle of the day).
Portuguese bond spreads have been weak all week; Spain has been bleeding in the front-end and belly of the curve; and today saw Italian bonds start to lose some gains. What is perhaps more notable is the weakness in Italian stocks (most notably banks) since the short-sale ban was lifted on Friday. FTSEMIB is down 3.5% from pre-FOMC and -5% from post-FOMC spike highs. EURUSD is back below 1.30 (and stands 1.5 sigma rich to swap-spread-implied levels). Meanwhile, Europe's VIX plummets to six-month lows as realized vol plunges - but the volatility risk premium is still high.
As Cantor's Peter Cecchini notes today "when things are this senseless, a reversion to sensibility will occur again at some point." His view is to be long vol and as the disconnect between the economic cycle and stocks continues to grow, we present three mind-numbing charts of the exuberant hopefulness that is now priced in (oh yeah, aside from AAPL actually selling some iPhones in pre-order). Whether it is earnings hockey-sticks, global growth ramps, or fiscal cliff resolutions, it seems the market can only see the silver-lining. We temper that extreme bullish view with the fact that all the monetary policy good news has to be out now - for Ben hath made it so with QEternity.
We destroyed the myth that the LTRO would not in fact stigmatize bank balance sheets when it was first introduced as the encumbrance was evident from the start - though took the market a while to comprehend and reprice (exuberant on the new-found liquidity optics). The expectations that the ECB will embark on a new scheme of sovereign debt purchases, implicitly funding governments - no matter how many times they tell us that it is to ensure transmission mechanisms flow, have three objectives or rationales, according to Goldman's Huw Pill: Easing private financing conditions through monetary expansion, Financing governments, and/or Reactivating private markets. However, there is one glaring unintended consequence of this 'aid' - the risk exists that well-intentioned sovereign debt purchases result in perverse incentives and a perpetuation of chronic fiscal and structural problems (much as Bernanke's band-aids have eased the fiscal pressure on our own government and led us further down the rabbit hole). The lack of political legitimacy and blunting of incentives for more fundamental consolidation and reform to take place can only turn the acute pain of the moment in Spain into a truly chronic problem for Europe as a whole - be careful what you wish for.
Although the supply and demand factors do not seem to support the current price levels, there are plenty of other events to sustain and add premium.
By now it should be painfully clear to involved that the Greek economy is nothing but a zombie, whose funding shortfalls and other deficit needs are sustained each month only courtesy of constantly new and improved "financial engineering" ponzi creations out of the ECB, the ELA, and other interlinked funding mechanisms which are merely a transfer of German cash into empty peripheral coffers. And while the attention of the world has moved on, at least for the time being, from the small country which has been left for dead with the assumption that Europe will do the bare minimum to keep it alive, but not more, Greece once again reminds us that not only does it still pretend to be alive, but that the zombie is getting hungry, and want to eat.
For months everyone was confused, like lost lambs in a sea of noise and 500x leverage, not knowing how to navigate the stormy, choppy FX seas. Now we know. For that beacon of anti-precision, the man, the myth, the legend who bats 0.000 and thus is the most certain contrarian bet in history, Goldman's Tom Stolper has spoken: "We would now recommend going long EUR/$ at current levels with a one-day stop on a close below 1.18 for an initial target of 1.30." Start your selling.
Summary of what has been said so far: Nothing, just as we said last week. Draghi basically repeated the June 29 summit bottom line that the EFSF should buy PIIGS bonds, the ECB "May" act, which means Germany is still not on board, and that after talking markets up by 5%, he has delivered nothing but a delay. This is a huge blow to his and the ECB's credibility.
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With speculation ripe out of everyone from Reuters to the FT about what Draghi may or may not say, with or without Germany's blessing, the best at this point is just to hand over the microphone to the former Goldmanite. Here is the live webcast of Draghi's press conference. Pay attention as a word out of place will send the EURUSD plunging by 200 pips. Or soaring.
Want to buy stocks on anything than a greater fool theory, or hope and prayer that someone with "other people's money" will bail you out of a losing position when the market goes bidless? That may change after reading the latest monthly letter from Pimco's Bill Gross whose crusade against risk hits a crescendo. Yes, he is talking his book (and talking down his equity asset allocation), but his reasons are all too valid: "The cult of equity is dying. Like a once bright green aspen turning to subtle shades of yellow then red in the Colorado fall, investors’ impressions of “stocks for the long run” or any run have mellowed as well. I “tweeted” last month that the souring attitude might be a generational thing: “Boomers can’t take risk. Gen X and Y believe in Facebook but not its stock. Gen Z has no money.”.... So what is a cult chasing figure supposed to do? Well, the cult of equities may be over. But the cult of reflating inflation is just beginning: "The primary magic potion that policymakers have always applied in such a predicament is to inflate their way out of the corner. The easiest way to produce 7–8% yields for bonds over the next 30 years is to inflate them as quickly as possible to 7–8%! Woe to the holder of long-term bonds in the process!... Unfair though it may be, an investor should continue to expect an attempted inflationary solution in almost all developed economies over the next few years and even decades. Financial repression, QEs of all sorts and sizes, and even negative nominal interest rates now experienced in Switzerland and five other Euroland countries may dominate the timescape. The cult of equity may be dying, but the cult of inflation may only have just begun."
It's all about the central banks this week.
We discussed the use of Game Theory as a useful tool for analyzing Europe's predicament in February and noted that it was far from optimal for any (peripheral or core) sovereign to pre-emptively 'agree' to austerity or Eurobonds respectively (even though that would make both better off). This Prisoner's Dilemma left the ugly Nash-Equilibrium game swinging from a catastrophic break-up to a long, painful (and volatile) continuation of the crisis. Recent work by BofAML's FX team takes this a step further and in assigning incentives and from a 'do-not-cooperate' Nash-equilibrium between Greece and Germany (no Greek austerity and no Eurobonds) they extend the single-period game across the entire group of European nations - with an ugly outcome. Analyzing the costs and benefits of a voluntary exit from the euro-area for the core and periphery countries, the admittedly over-simplified results are worrying. Italy and Ireland (not Greece) are expected to exit first (with Italy having a decent chance of an orderly exit) and while Germany is the most likely to achieve an orderly exit, it has the lowest incentive to exit the euro-zone - since growth, borrowing costs, and a weakening balance sheet would cause more pain. Ultimately, they play the game out and find while Germany could 'bribe' Italy to stay, they will not accept and Italy will optimally exit first - suggesting a very dark future ahead for the Eurozone and with EUR tail-risk so cheap, it seems an optimal trade - as only a weaker EUR can save the Euro.
Spain is not Uganda: this morning Spain is increasingly looking like the 10th circle of bondholder vigilante hell with its 10 Year trading at 7.59% after hitting a record 7.607% moment prior. The short end has blown out even wider and the 2 Year very appropriately at 6.66% and rising. Italy has also joined the party blowing out to just why of 6.5% and Italy's banks about to be halted across the board despite the short-selling ban. Next up: selling anything forbidden. Finally, the scramble for safety into Swiss 2 year notes accelerates as these touch a mindboggling -0.44%. There was no specific catalyst to lead to today's ongoing meltdown, but the fact that Spain just paid a record price for 3 and 6 month Bills is not helping: the average yield was 2.434 percent for the three-month bills compared with 2.362 percent in June and 3.691 percent for six-month paper compared with 3.237 percent. With each passing day, the selling crew is demanding the ECB get involved and stop the carnage. For now Draghi is nowhere to be seen as Germany continues to have the upper hand. After all recall just who it is that benefits from keeping the periphery on the razor's edge and the EURUSD sliding.
With Valencia bust, Spanish bonds at all-time record spreads to bunds, and yields at euro-era record highs, Spain's access to public markets for more debt is as good as closed. What is most concerning however, as FAZ reports, is that "the money will last [only] until September", and "Spain has no 'Plan B". Yesterday's market meltdown - especially at the front-end of the Spanish curve - is now being dubbed 'Black Friday' and the desperation is clear among the Spanish elite. Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo (JMGM) attacked the ECB for their inaction in the SMP (bond-buying program) as they do "nothing to stop the fire of the [Spanish] government debt" and when asked how he saw the future of the European Union, he replied that it could "not go on much longer." The riots protest rallies continue to gather pace as Black Friday saw the gravely concerned union-leaders (facing worrying austerity) calling for a second general strike (yeah - that will help) as they warn of a 'hot autumn'. It appears Spain has skipped 'worse' and gone from bad to worst as they work "to ensure that financial liabilities do not poison the national debt" - a little late we hesitate to point out.
A generation of market participants has grown up knowing only the era of central bankers and the 'Great Moderation' of (most of) the last two decades elevated their status significantly. While central bankers are generally very well aware of the limits of their own power, financial markets seem inclined to overstress the direct scope of monetary policy in the real world.
If markets fall, investors need only to run to central bankers, and Ben Bernanke and his ilk will put on a sticking plaster and offer a liquidity lollipop to the investment community for being such brave little soldiers in the face of adversity
Monetary policy impacts the real economy because it is transmitted to the real economy through the money transmission mechanism. This has become particularly important in the current environment, where, as UBS' Paul Donovan notes, some aspects of that transmission mechanism have become damaged in some economies. Simplifying the monetary transmission mechanism into four very broad categories: the cost of capital; the willingness to lend; the willingness to save; and the foreign exchange rate; UBS finds strains in each that negate some or all of a central bank's stimulus efforts. In the current climate, it may well be that the state of the monetary transmission mechanism is even more important than monetary policy decisions themselves. Some monetary policy makers may be at the limits of their influence.