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.
With everyone scrambling to buy into the bathsalts rally, and shorts rushing to cover with a panic bordering on a QE-announcement, it is somewhat ironic that today's voice of muted reason comes from none other than Liebor expert extraordinaire: Barclays, whose suggestion is simple: lock your profits: "We remain bearish on EURUSD, expecting it to grind slowly down to 1.15 over the next 12 months. We therefore suggest investors look to fade this morning's European currency strength versus the USD and non European commodity currencies such as the AUD and CAD." Why? They have their listed reasons. The unlisted ones are the same that every other bank has for becoming bearish recently (we have recently listed Citi, Goldman, SocGen and DB to name but a few): for a real fiscal and monetary policy intervention to take place (i.e., a rescue package that lasts at least a few months, as opposed to today's several day max rally): the market has to be tumbling. That, as we have explained repeatedly, is the only way to get a powerful response. Everything else is (quarter end) window dressing.
The last few days have seen high-yield credit markets remain remarkably resilient in the face of an equity downdraft. Both HYG (the high-yield bond ETF) and HY18 (the credit derivative spread index) have remained notably stable even as stocks have lost over 3% - and in fact intrinsics and the underlying bonds have improved in value modestly. HY bonds are much less sensitive to interest rate movements (especially at these spread levels) and so, in general, this divergence in performance is aberrant (especially with equity volatility also pushing higher in sync with stocks and not with credit). So why is high-yield credit not so weak? The answer is surprisingly simple. As we argue for weeks from the end of LTRO2, credit markets were far less sanguine than stocks and have leaked lower ever since. This 'relative' outperformance of high-yield credit over stocks appears to be nothing less than the last of the hope-premium bleeding out of stocks and re-aligning with credit's more sombre 'reality' view of the world. Given the sensitivity of HYG (and HY) to flows, and the weakness in risk assets, we would suspect that outflows will now dag both lower as they resync at these higher aggregate risk premium levels.
In a no-holds-barred interview with Bloomberg TV's Francine Lacqua, the increasingly droopy-faced George Soros remains as sprite-minded as ever in his clarifying thoughts on Europe. His diagnosis is spot on: "Basically there is an interrelated problem of the banking system and the excessive risk premium on sovereign debt - they are Siamese twins, tied together and you have to tackle both" and summarizes the forthcoming Summit 'fiasco' as fatal if the fiscal disagreements are not resolved (and as of this afternoon, we know Germany's constant position on this). His solution is unlikely to prove tenable in the short-term as he notes "Merkel has emerged as a strong leader", but "unfortunately, she has been leading Europe in the wrong direction". His extensive interview covers what Europe needs, the Bund bubble, GRexit, post-summit contagion, and Mario Monti's impotence.
Hours before Spain is expected to present the bank "assessment" from Roland Berger and Oliver Wyman on its comprehensive bank insolvency status, the country sold €2.22 billion of two-, three- and five-year government bonds, in a sale which saw solid demand but yields that are simply laughable and are completely unsustainable, culminating with a record yield on 5 year paper. Per Reuters, the Treasury sold 700 million euros worth of a 2-year bond, 918 million euros worth of a 3-year bond and 602 million euros of a 5-year bond, beating a target to issue up to 2 billion euros of the debt... In a nutshell: big demand for paper that will leave Spain pennyless. Not very surprising, and as Elisabeth Afseth from Investec summarized, "They got it away, it's about the most positive thing you can say about it." Elsewhere the German economy continues to deteriorate from carrying the weight of the PIIGS on its shoulders, with the Mfg PMI and Services PMI both missing estimates of 45.2 and 51.5, and printing at 44.7 and 50.3, respectively. This was a 3 year low for German PMI and now all but confirms that the economy will enter a recession at the next GDP update. But all this pales in comparison with the latest update of the Greek comedy where we learn that the three parties forming Greece's new coalition government have agreed to ask lenders for two more years to meet fiscal targets under an international bailout that is keeping the country from bankruptcy, a party official said on Thursday. This came a few hours after a German parliamentary group officially spoke against a time trade-off for Greece. Which means that beggas will not be choosers after all.
The past week was dominated by the Eurogroup statement over the weekend that Spain will seek financial support for its banks. According to the statement, Spain intends to make a formal request soon, with financial assistance expected to be around EUR100 bn and to come from the EFSF or ESM. Aid will be channeled through the FROB, and will increase the debt burden of the Spanish sovereign. There will be no macro or fiscal conditionality as in the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, but only on bank sector restructuring. That said, there will be monitoring of the deficit and structural reforms as part of this bailout, though no conditionality, and the IMF is also invited to monitor progress under the program. Separately, the week also saw lots of commentary out of the Fed, including from Chairman Bernanke and Vice Chair Yellen. Looking to the week ahead, the key question for us is where to harvest excessive risk premia, bearing in mind that the Greek elections are around the corner.. In terms of policy talk and data, for the former Fed chatter ends on Tuesday when the blackout period begins ahead of the FOMC on June 19/20. For the latter, US retail sales and industrial production will be important to watch as we head into the FOMC next week.
The absence of the UK from today’s trade is particularly evident, with volumes remaining particularly light across all asset classes. Nonetheless, European equities are largely seen drifting higher with the exception of the DAX index, which is yet to move over into positive territory. News flow remains light with the highlight of the day so far being comments from the Troika, confirming that Portugal remains on track with its bailout program, and have confirmed that the country will receive the next EUR 4.1bln tranche in July. FX moves remain in a tight range, with EUR/USD looking relatively unchanged, with the USD index slightly weaker as the US comes to market. Looking ahead in the session, participants can look forward to US ISM New York and Factory Orders data as the next risk events of the session.
What would the weekend be without at least one rumor that Europe is on the verge of fixing everything, or failing that, planning for a master fix, OR failing that, planning for a master plan to fix everything. Sure enough, we just got the latter, which considering nobody really believes anything out of Europe anymore, especially not something that has not been signed, stamped and approved by Merkel herself, is rather ballsy. Nonetheless, one can't blame them for trying: "The chiefs of four European institutions are in the process of creating a master plan for the euro zone, the daily Die Welt reports Saturday, in an advance release of an article to be published Sunday. Suggestions targeting a fiscal, banking, and political union, as well as structural reforms, are being worked out..." Less than credible sources report that Spiderman towels (which are now trading at negative repo rates) and cross-rehypothecated kitchen sinks are also key components of all future "master plans" which sadly are absolutely meaningless since the signature of Europe's paymaster - the Bundesrepublik - is as usual lacking. Which is why, "the plan may well mean that the euro zone adopts measures not immediately accepted by the whole of the European Union, the article adds." So... European sub-union? Hardly strange is that just as this latest desperate attempt at distraction from the complete chaos in Europe (which will only find a resolution once XO crosses 1000 as we and Citi suggested two weeks ago and when the world is truly on the verge of the abyss), none other than George Soros has just started a 3-month countdown to European the European D(oom)-Day.
Exit from the Euro would be very painful for Greece. Cut off from the ECB’s liquidity facilities, the Greek banking system would face collapse. And, as foreign lenders cut their credit lines to Greece and depositors struggled to extract their deposits ahead of the banks’ failure, the Greek financial system – and with it the Greek economy – would seize up. Given the costs of exit for both Greece and other Euro area countries, a powerful incentive exists for the two parties to reach a compromise that permits continued Greek membership of the Euro area but in the meantime the pan-European game of chicken continues and with each iteration of this game, the political cost to the two parties involved has increased. Goldman sees three key scenarios from this: Muddle Through (this is their 'Goldilocks' base case and implies continued Greek EMU membership, and ECB funding for Greek banks, but also continued pressure on Greece to reluctantly implement reforms while at the same time the remaining Eurozone countries very gradually deepen their policy integration) - which is modestly positive (though likely more range-bound) for equities and bonds with weak growth and Fed QE3 potentially pushing EURUSD up to 1.40; a Fast Exit (the least likely and most bearish scenario with Greece walking away unilaterally potentially knocking 2 percentage points of Euro-area GDP - even assuming substantial central bank counter-measures - and if the firewall were ineffective, a Euro-unraveling and an associated double-digit fall in Euro-area GDP); and a Slow Exit (Greece excluded once firewalls are in place - with pan-European deposit guarantees now front-and-center as opposed to simple banking bailouts to avoid the now-critical bank-run's contagion - which constitutes modest GDP impacts and compression in risk premia - and appears to what the market is discounting as likely). Simply put CB counter-measures are assumed to save any dramatic downside unless Greece surprises unilaterally.
It seems the clarion call for central bank intervention to save us all is growing louder as following Citigroup's imploring letter earlier in the week, SocGen has done its homework on the impact of a Greek exit from the Euro and finds Euro Stoxx could drop by 50% under a contagion scenario. They believe the reason why the eurozone market is holding up relatively well - despite the rising risk of a Greek exit - is that contagion has not really spread yet, which is then 'discounted' away based on expectations of a central bank put to save the world. In the case of a disorderly break-up (the only kind there can be realistically in our view), they expect eurozone profits to decline for two years, a rise in bond yields (raising cost of funds), a rising equity risk premium, and the implicit drop in P/E multiples. A Greek exit alone (with no contagion) would likely knock 10% off Euro Stoxx but the significant rise in correlations across the euro-zone suggests the idiosyncratic becomes systemic very rapidly.
So stepping aside from the biggest aggregator of private data for a few minutes, and focusing on what actually matters, here is Citigroup telling our European readers who have those fancy multi-colored bills in their wallets, that they are in deep trouble.
To summarize from Citi:
- There are many scenarios for a Greek exit; almost all of them are likely to be EUR negative for an extended period
- Some scenarios could be positive in equilibrium but the run-up to the new equilibrium could be nasty, brutal and long
- The positive scenarios for the euro involve aggressive reduction of tail risk; none of these seem likely
- It is unlikely that central banks busily substitute EUR for USD in their portfolios during periods of intense political uncertainty.
Now its getting interesting. 30Y yields fell the most in 5 months today back to 5 month lows, 10Y yields crashed to all-time closing lows, and Gold surged by its most in 4 months (and 2nd most in 7 months) as stocks started to accelerate lower. Gold is unch on the week now as 30Y is -21bps and 10Y -14bps to 1 1.69% handle - incredible. Between the Philly Fed's confirmation of deceleration in US macro data and Europe's increasingly crescendo-like implosion, is it any wonder that the decoupling thesis has given way to reality. S&P 500 e-mini futures repeated the early rally late fade pattern of the last 8 days but this time it was more aggressive as ES pushed towards 1300. CAT was a dog today accounting for 25% of the Dow's losses and AAPL tumbled further - heading towards a 20% retracement off its highs. Financials tumbled further with Citi inching very close to red YTD (and JPM falling rapidly). Credit markets, which led the selloff, continue to slide but this time with equities in sync. Equities went out at their very lows of the day at 1300.50 (at 3.5 month lows) as VIX soared over 24% to close at its highest in 5 months.