With volatility so low and risk seemingly removed from any- and every-one's vernacular, perhaps it is time to refresh our perspective on downside and tail-risk concerns. While most think only in terms of equity derivatives as serving to create a tail-wagging-the-dog type of reflexive move, there is a growing and increasingly liquid (just like the old days with CDOs, so be warned) market for options on CDS. Concentrated in the major and most liquid indices, swaption volumes have risen notably as have gross and net notional outstandings. Puts and Calls on credit risk - known as Payers and Receivers (Payers being the equivalent of a put option on a bond, or call option on its spread) have been actively quoted since 2006 but the last 2-3 years has seen their popularity increase as a 'cheap' way to protect (or take on) credit risk - most specifically tail risk scenarios. Morgan Stanley recently published another useful primer on these instruments - as the sell-side's new favorite wide-margin offering to wistful buy-siders and wannabe quants - noting the three main uses for swaptions as Hedging, Upside, and Yield Enhancement. These all have their own nuances but as spreads compress and managers look for ever more inventive ways to add yield so the specter of negative gamma appears - chasing markets up into rallies and down into sell-offs - and the inevitable rips and gaps this causes can wreak havoc in markets that have momentum anyway. Given the leverage and average notionals involved, understanding this seemingly niche space may become very important if we see another tail risk flare and as the Fed knows only too well (as it suggested here) like selling Treasury Puts, derivatives on credit are for more effective at establishing directional moves in the the underlying than simple open market operations.
Goldman Actively Engaging In "Debt-For-Equity" Swap With Clients After Publishing "Long Good Buy, The Case For Equities"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 03/21/2012 07:08 -0500
Roughly at the same time Francesco Garzarelli fired the first warning shot against Treasurys on January 23, 2012, telling 'clients' that "We are now of the view that a break to the upside, to 2.25-2.50%, is likely and recommend going tactically short. Using Mar-12 futures contracts, which closed on Friday at 130-08, we would aim for a target of 126-00 and stops on a close above 132-00" a trade which has largely worked which means that the Goldman counter-axe is hurting big (although following the trade snap yesterday this may be over for now), the firm's Peter Oppenheimer started drafting a magnum opus, making a 40 page case, chock full of graphs, charts, bullet points, and footnotes, iPad optimized and likely coming to a Kindle near you, desperate to convince clients to sell their bonds to Goldman, and to buy all of Goldman's inventory of stocks from the firm because "After more than a decade of de-rating, equities are implying unrealistically large declines in growth and returns into the future." As a reminder, this is a deja vu repeat of precisely the same trade that Goldman enacted back in 2011... and then back in 2010... and each of those times was accompanied by lots of pretty charts and fancy bullets. Will this time be different, and is the proper call, as usual, to trade alongside Goldman (sell equities, buy bonds), or to do what Goldman tells the muppets to do? You decide.
Do not trust any government. Nothing new here. This Greek government invoked the collective action clause (CAC). It retroactively inserted provisions in a debt contract and then imposed them.
Insolvency will keep dragging the Euro-Area economy down until sovereign and bank balance sheets are repaired, but as Lombard Street Research points out: eliminating the Ponzi debt without fracturing the entire credit system is impossible. The Lehman default occurred 13 months after the US TED spread crossed 100 basis points. The European equivalent crossed 100 basis points in September 2011, so its banking crisis would occur this autumn if a year or so is a normal incubation period. A Greek or any other significant default will precipitate a European banking crisis in the foreseeable future. Markets are already speculating on Portuguese negotiations for haircuts and Ireland can’t be far behind and the contagion to US (and global) banking systems is inevitable given counterparty risks, debt loads (and refi needs), and capital requirements (no matter how well hidden by MtM math). The contagion will likely show up as a risk premium in the credit markets initially as we suggest the recent underperformance of both US and European bank credit relative to stocks is a canary to keep an eye on.
The first details of the Greek bond deal are leaking out via Reuters, and we now learn the reason for the Greek bond sell off in recent days:
- UNDER GREEK DEBT SWAP, PRIVATE SECTOR WILL GET 3% COUPON ON BONDS FROM 2012-20, 3.75% COUPON FROM 2021 ONWARDS [2021... LOL]
- PRIVATE SECTOR WILL ALSO GET A GDP-LINKED ADDITIONAL PAYMENT, CAPPED AT 1 PCT OF THE OUTSTANDING AMOUNT OF NEW BONDS [If it appears that nobody gives a rat's ass about this bullet point, it's because it's true]
- GREEK BANK RECAPITALISATION NEEDS MAY NOW BE AS MUCH AS 50 BLN EUROS-DEBT SUSTAINABILITY ANALYSIS
Which in turn explains the sell off in pre-petition Greek junior triple subordinated bonds (i.e., those held by private unconnected investors, which are subordinated to the Troika's bailout loans, to the ECB's SMP purchases, to the Public Sector bonds and to UK-law bonds in that order). With the EFSF Bill "sweetener" amounting to about 15 cents (and likely less), the fact that bondholders will receive a 3% cash coupon, a cash on cash return based on Greek bonds of 2015 trading at just 20.7 cents on the euro, indicates that investors are expecting to collect 1 cash coupon payment, and at absolute best 2, before redefault, as buying a 2015 bond now at 20.7 of par, yields a full cash return of 21 (15+3+3), thus the third coupon payment is assured not to come. And since there is a substantial upside risk premium kicker to bond buyers, in reality the investing market is saying that Greece will last at best about a year following the debt exchange (if it ever even happens) before the country redefaults.
Following the recent downgrades of many of the major European banks and insurers and last year's comments by Fitch on insurers' inability to pass on losses to policyholders, the hot-topic of ASSGEN, ALZ, and the rest of the capital-impaired forced-soakers-up-of-new-issue-demand in the European insurance market are under new pressure as The WSJ points out today that new 'rightly punitive' capital rules have been watered down. The 2014 introduction of 'Solvency II' - the insurers' equivalent to banks' Basel III capital rules - did indeed attempt to create risk-weighted capital requirements and better balance assets and liabilities within these firms. However, as Hester Plumridge notes, regulators bowed to industry pressure (again) adding the ability to shift discount rates to get around low-rate-implied valuations for their annuity streams and the introduction of a 'countercyclical premium' to avoid the growing (and negative) spread between distressed assets and rising liabilities. As Plumridge concludes, "a solvency regime that ignores all European sovereign credit risk looks increasingly unrealistic. Investors could end up none the wiser." After some systemic compression, the last week or so has seen insurers start to deteriorate as perhaps the market will enforce its own capital expectations even if regulators are unwilling to.
As forecasts for peripheral macro data continue to deteriorate and core to strengthen modestly, there is little real comfort available from the European situation aside from the 800lb gorilla that all headlines are focused on today. Credit Suisse describes it as "a case of the outlook being less bad than expected, rather that it being better" and notes that post the Greek situation, despite the ongoing rally in the ever-thinning sovereign bond market, that risk premia (that were dangerously forgotten for the first decade of the Euro) will remain at elevated levels. CS sees three scenarios beyond Greece with even the best-case leaving questions of sustainability, trust, and continued negotiations yet the market's willingness to follow along the path of inevitably ruinous policies seems writ large with today's credit, equity, and FX strength.
It is one thing for Tom Stolper to release precious tidbits about what is not going to happen in the future on a weekday - for those we are very grateful. But doing so on god's (or is that Goldman's) day is truly a first. In a note just blasted out, it would appear there is no rest for the Stolper, and according to the world's most admired FX strategist (remember: batting 0.000 is just as useful as batting 1.000), "Dollar downside forces on the rise" and that Goldman is positioned "short the USD again"... Just as Goldman was positioned long the Russell 2000 literally the minute the market topped on Thursday (no joke - check it). And to think it was only three weeks ago that the same strategist saw downside risks for the EURUSD to 1.20...
"Reach for yield" is a phrase that never gets old, does it? Whether it's the "why hold Treasuries when a stock has a great dividend?" or "if this bond yields 3% then why not grab the 7% yield bond - it's a bond, right?" argument, we constantly struggle with the 100% focus on return (yield not capital appreciation) and almost complete lack of comprehension of risk - loss of capital (or why the yield/risk premium is high). Arguing over high-yield valuations is at once a focus on idiosyncrasies (covenants, cash-flow, etc.), and technicals (flow-based demand and supply), as well as systemic and macro cycles, which play an increasingly critical part. Up until very recently, high yield bonds (based on our framework) offered considerably more upside (if you had a bullish bias) than stocks and indeed they outperformed (with HYG - the high-yield bond ETF - apparently soaking up more and more of that demand and outperformance as its shares outstanding surged). With stocks and high-yield credit now 'close' to each other in value, we note Barclay's excellent note today on both the seasonals (December/January are always big months for high yield excess return) and the low-rate, low-yield implications (negative convexity challenges) the asset-class faces going forward. The high-beta (asymmetric) nature of high-yield credit to systemic macro shocks, combined with the seasonality-downdraft and callability-drag suggests if you need to reach for yield then there will better entry points later in the year (for the surviving credits).
Successive plans to restore confidence in the euro area have failed. Proposals currently on the table also seem likely to fail. The market cost of borrowing is at unsustainable levels for many banks and a significant number of governments that share the euro. In three short sentences, the Peterson Institute for International Economics' (PIIE) Simon Johnson introduces the clear and present danger that Europe has become in a comprehensive article on the deepening European crisis. The circular nature of the realization of sovereign credit risk realities and the subsequent effective insolvency of banks exacerbates a credit crunch and exaggerates problems in the real economy - most specifically in the periphery. Johnson outlines five measures that are needed to enable the euro area to survive but the big bazooka of up to EUR5tn just for the PIIGS is what the PIIE senior fellow fears as the ECB is pushed down a dangerous path. The coordination of 17 disaparate nations leaves the former IMF man greatly concerned as the unique nature of this crisis leaves "four economic, social, and political events as possible causes of systemic collapse with each at risk of occurring in the next weeks, months, or years and these risks will not disappear quickly." As European sovereign bonds are now deeply subordinated claims on recessionary economies, it is no surprise that Johnson ends by noting that Europe's economy remains in a dangerous state.
Keystone Aftermath Arrives: Canada Pledges To Sell Oil To Asia, As US Becomes Source Of "Uncertainty"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/19/2012 12:13 -0500
America's loss is China's gain. In the aftermath of the Keystone XL fiasco, which will see not only a number of jobs "uncreated" but a natural source of crude lost, Canada is already planning next steps. Which will benefit Shanghai directly and immediately. As Bloomberg reports, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a telephone call yesterday, told Obama “Canada will continue to work to diversify its energy exports,” according to details provided by Harper’s office. Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver said relying less on the U.S. would help strengthen the country’s “financial security.” The “decision by the Obama administration underlines the importance of diversifying and expanding our markets, including the growing Asian market,” Oliver told reporters in Ottawa." Ironically, it is diversifying away from the US, with its ever soaring, politically-predicated uncertainty, that is a source of stability and diversification. But it is not only crude. Wonder why no jobs are being created? Wonder why despite record low mortgage rates there is no bottom in sight for housing? Simple - nobody can plan one month, let alone one year ahead for any US-based venture or business. The political risk is simply too great - whether it is contract law (see GM and Chrysler) or simple solvency (see record high levels of cash hoarded by companies), it is there, and as long as it is there, there will be no hiring, no capex spending, no growth, and no real improvement in the economy, the real economy, not that defined by where the Russell 2000 closes on any given day.
By now Zero Hedge readers know that there is no better contrarian signal in the world than Goldman's Tom Stolper: in fact it is well known his "predictions" are a gift from god (no pun intended ) because without fail the opposite of what he predicts happens - see here. 100% of the time. Which is why, following up on our previous post identifying the record short interest in the EUR and the possibility for CME shennanigans any second now, it was only logical that Stolper would come out, warning of further downside to the EURUSD (despite having a 1.45 target). To wit: "With considerable downside risk in the short term, within our regular 3-month forecasting horizon, the key questions are about the speed and magnitude of the initial sell-off. If we had to publish forecasts on a 1- and 2-month horizon, we could see EUR/$ reach 1.20. In other words, we expect the EUR/$ sell-off to continue for now as risk premia have to rise initially." In yet other words, if there is a clearer signal to go tactically long the EURUSD we do not know what it may be. We would set the initial target at 1.30 on the pair.
"What we have on our hands is a good old fashioned quagmire" is how Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson sets up his surprisingly non-sheep-like perspective on the troubles that US equity investors may be about to face. Expanding on MS's bearish strategic (fundamental) forecast, that we discussed earlier in the week, Wilson combines the 'liquidity vs negative-real-rate' thesis (that the Fed's liquidity is perhaps no longer 'good' for stocks) with his own views on ECRI's weakness (very 2008-like in relation to ECO surprises), household debt deleveraging (more and longer), how much QE3 is already priced in and what will its effect be when it comes (less and less positive in nominal and real terms), investor sentiment (very bullish), long-term technicals (weak breadth), and short-term earnings expectations (deteriorating and weighted to 'weak' financials to end with the pragmatic realist perspective that perhaps 'the gig is up'.
Fitch joins the Hungary "junking" parade, which centers around the country's former unwillingness to yield to the banking cartel regarding its central bank, which as of today is no longer the case: "The downgrade of Hungary's ratings reflects further deterioration in the country's fiscal and external financing environment and growth outlook, caused in part by further unorthodox economic policies which are undermining investor confidence and complicating the agreement of a new IMF/EU deal."