Sovereign CDS

US Equities Ignoring US Sovereign Risk Warning

We have been warning of the pending fiscal cliff in the US and the somewhat inevitable debt ceiling debacle, election uncertainty, and the question of Fed independence in an election year as potential catalysts for risk flares in the US and abroad. For now, US equities are happy to ignore these events, still drawn in their Pavlovian-educated manner to US equities for their nominal enrichment. The trouble is - there are clear warning signs from some particularly noteworthy markets that all is not well (that appear more capable of comprehending fundamentals). Forget for a moment the overnight plunge and recovery in futures as this will bring only anchoring bias; a step back to 30,000 feet and we note that the spread on USA Sovereign CDS has risen by over 30% in the last month (now back at 40bps or 3-month wides) flashing a worrying warning signal for US equities if the past is any guide. Remember that US CDS are denominated in EUR and do not simply reflect the 'default' risk of the fiat-issuing USA but the devaluation or restructuring risks - and it appears market participants are getting nervous once again of the profligacy of the US government and the ineptitude of the central banks with their one-trick-pony experimentation. At the same time, central banks' broad repression has crushed volatility in every asset class - except, as Morgan Stanley notes - credit which is inferring considerably higher chance of a risk flare in the short-term. So while this week will bring cheers of growthiness and cooperation and decoupling, the all-seeing eye of credit markets remain far less sanguine.

Spain Goes Irish On Regions

Slowly but surely, the Spanish authorities are gradually socializing the rest of the world to the dismal truth that we have been so vociferously arguing - that their debt levels (or more specifically their debt/GDP ratios) are significantly higher (explicitly) than their current official data suggest. Today's news, via the WSJ, that the Spanish government may take over some regions' finances, in an attempt to shore up investor confidence (just as Ireland did with its banks and we know how well that worked out?) is yet another step closer to the 'realization'  that all that is "contingent" is actually "explicitly guaranteed." As we noted here, this leaves Spain's Debt/GDP nearer 135% than its 'official' 68.5%. The WSJ notes comments from a top government official that "there will soon be new tools to control regional spending" and that they may take over at least one of the country's cash-strapped regions this year. As we broke down extensively here, this is no surprise as yet another group of political elite find the truth harder to deal with than the blinkered optimism they face the media with every day and yet as PM Rajoy notes "Nobody can expect that deep-seated problems be solved in just a few weeks", the irony of the euphoria felt around the world at the optical rally in Spanish spreads for the first few months of the year is not lost as Spain heads back into the abyss ahead of pending auctions and what appears to be more ponzified guarantees of regional finances (as long as they promise to pay it back and have 'a plan'). The simple truth is, as acknowledged by Rajoy, Spain has lost the trust of financial markets.

Spain: The Ultimate Doomsday Presentation

Since we have grown tired of variations on the theme of "The Pain in ...." (having been guilty of encouraging it ourselves), we will spare readers this triteness, and instead summarize the attached must read slidedeck from Carmel Asset Management as the ultimate Spanish doomsday presentation. Naive and/or idealistic Spanish readers are advised to resume sticking their heads in the sand, and to stay as far away as possible from the attached 54 pages, which prove without any doubt why not only was Greece the appetizer (have your UK law:non-UK Law divergence trade on yet?) but why things in Europe are about to get far, far worse, as the Hurricane shifts to its next preferred location, somewhere above and just south of the Pyrenees.

Europe Drops Most In 3 Weeks As LTRO Stigma Hits New Highs

With Chinese and European data disappointing and Weidmann commenting on the futility of the 'firewalls' (as we discussed earlier) ahead of the discussions later this week, European equities dropped their most in almost three weeks over the last two days closing right at their 50DMA (the closest to a cross since 12/20). Credit markets (dominated by financial weakness) continue to slide as the LTRO euphoria wears off. The LTRO Stigma, the spread between LTRO-encumbered and non-LTRO-encumbered banks, has exploded to over 107bps (from under 50bps at its best in mid Feb when we first highlighted it) and is now up over 75% since the CDS roll as only non-LTRO banks have seen any improvement in the last week. Aside from Portugal, whose bonds seem to be improving dramatically on the back of significant Cash-CDS basis compression as opposed to real-money flows as the spread between Bonds and CDS has compressed from 500bps to 250bps on the back of renewed confidence in CDS triggering, sovereign bond spreads are leaking wider all week with Italy and Spain worst.

Ugly European Sovereign CDS Rerack

An ugly day all around as European sovereign CDS jump the most in three weeks...

                    5Y                       10Y             5/10's
ITALY           374/382  +15      365/385         -10/0
SPAIN          432/440  +15      426/446          -5/5

Greek CDS Settlement - 3 Wrongs Do Make A Right

One of the central premises of CDS is that the “basis” package should work.  An investor should be able to buy a bond, and buy CDS to the same maturity and expect to get paid close to par – either by the bond being repaid at par and the CDS expiring worthless, or through a Credit Event, where the price of the bonds the investor owns plus the CDS settlement amount add up to close to par. The settlement of the Greek CDS contracts worked well, but that was pure dumb luck. This leaves playing the basis in Portuguese bonds and CDS as a much riskier proposition than before Europe's PSI/ECB decisions - and perhaps explains why at over 300bps, it has not been arbitraged fully away - though today's rally in Portugal bonds suggests a new marginal buyer which given the basis compression suggests they may be getting more comfortable.

CDS As Insurance Contracts

While AIG FP often made the contracts look like insurance products, the banks were very careful to make sure that the products were “credit derivatives” because they needed the regulatory capital relief provided by them.  Didn’t the Fed at some point get concerned about the counterparty exposure to AIG FP?  Isn’t counterparty risk something that the Fed is responsible for monitoring (or the ECB in the case of foreign banks)?  When the Fed let MS and GS become bank holding companies and get the ability to use Fed lending programs, didn’t they ask about the AIG FP exposure?  Goldman, which always claimed it was hedged, must have had a massive short position in AIG CDS to be hedged – again, no one at the Fed noticed this?  CDS may be unregulated, but when virtually every big financial company in the world has large notionals on with AIG, huge mark to market gains on those positions, no collateral from AIG, and big shorts in AIG CDS, couldn’t someone do their job?   This should have been noticeable in 2007!

As First Greek CDS "Anstalt" Appears, A Question Emerges: Did Banks Not Square Off Margins?

The irony is not lost on us that Bloomberg is reporting that KA Finanz, an Austrian bad-bank supported by the Austrian government, faces as much as a €1 billion need for funding to cover its exposures to Greek CDS (coughcreditanstaltcough). In a statement this morning, which we noted in a tweet, the bank noted "activation of the CDS with an assumed loss ratio of about 80% would mean an additional provisioning charge of EUR 423.6 million". KA Finanz's total amount of Greek CDS exposure is around EUR1bn. What is shocking and should be of great concern is that we have been led to believe that very little net cash will change hands on the basis of the $3.2bn net aggregate market exposure. This was based on the now false premise that variation margin was maintained and transferred throughout the process (as we note below from recent IMF filings). What appears to have happened is that dealer to dealer variation margin has been, let's say, less rigorous as perhaps all collateral was netted up across all exposures (or simply ignored on the basis of government backstops). The far bigger question then is: are banks simply marking ALL sovereign CDS at par, and not paying off cash to other dealers? Remember it only takes one counterparty in the chain to turn net into gross and quality collateral seems tied up a little right now at the ECB (or with margin calls).

Perspectives On A Printing Press Pause

It would appear, given the actions and rhetoric of the last week or so, that global central bank printing presses have been switched to 'pause' mode and allowed to cool as implicit inflation 'energy' rears its economic-growth-dragging head around the world (as the bears told us earlier). Whether this leads to a slow grind higher or a tactical correction is the question Morgan Stanley considers in a recent note and their answer is that bullish sentiment, 'under-appreciated' risks, and 'tranquil' markets justify a cautious asset allocation. The focus has switched much more to growth, likely why we have not seen a greater deterioration post-printing yet, but this leaves the market much more sensitive to data surprises (as the backstop of QE has been removed for now). Simply put, we tend to agree with MS' view (given our previous discussions of the volatility surface) that as event and growth risks linger, and with valuations no longer cheap in most cases, expectations of a continued grind higher without a tactical correction are overly confident.

ISDA's Take On Lack Of Greek CDS Trigger: "We Think The Credit Event/DC Process Is Fair, Transparent And Well-Tested"

Everyone's favorite banker-controlled CDS determining organization took offense to media reports saying it may be secretive, corrupt, and borderline manipulate if not worse. To wit: "In sum, we think the credit event/DC process is fair, transparent and well-tested.  There’s simply no evidence to the contrary.  Perhaps after today this non-secret secret will be a secret no more." Well, that takes care of that. ISDA is now certainly "fair, transparent, and well-tested", and for those who wrongfully feel that a 70%+ bond haircut could possible be an event of default, tough. Anyone else who wishes to express their feelings on the matter, can respond on ISDA's blog site.

A Strange Chart, In More Ways Than One

Everyone and their mum knows by now that Italian bonds have rallied since the first LTRO and we are told that this is symptomatic of 'improvement'. While we hate to steal the jam from that doughnut, we note Peter Tchir's interesting chart showing how focused the strength is in the short-end of the bond curve (which we know is thanks to the ECB's SMP program preference and the LTRO skew) but more notably the significantly less ebullient performance of the less manipulated and more fast-money, mark-to-market reality CDS market as we suspect, like him, the CDS is pricing in the longer-term subordination and termed out insolvency risk much more clearly than the illiquid bond market does, and perhaps bears closer scrutiny for a sense of what real risk sentiment really looks like.

A Shift In European Sentiment - Is Germany Prepared To Let Greece Default?

Something quite notable has shifted in recent weeks in Europe, and it originates at the European paymaster - Germany. While in the past it was of utmost importance to define any Greek default as voluntary (if one even dared whisper about it), and that the money allocated to keep the Eurozone whole would be virtually limitless, this is no longer the case. In fact, reading between the headlines in the past week, it becomes increasingly obvious that Greece will very soon become a new Lehman, i.e., a case study where the leaders are overly confident they can predict the outcomes of letting a critical entity default, and manage the consequences. Alas, this only proves they have learned nothing from the Lehman case, and the aftermath is still not only unpredictable but uncontrollable. But that's a bridge that Europe will cross very shortly. And what is truly frightening is that this crossing may happen even before the next LTRO hits the banks' balance sheets, thus not affording Euro banks with sufficient capital to withstand the capital outflow and funds the unexpected. In the meantime, here is UBS summarizing the palpable change in European outlook over Greece, and over the entire "Firewall" protocol.

Survival Of The Unfittest: Japan Or The UK?

The spread differential between Japan sovereign CDS and UK sovereign CDS (both denominated in USD) is near its widest on record (Japan 55bps wider than UK). Furthermore, Japan's CDS trades notably wider (101bps in 5Y) than its bond's yields (which are the domestically held and subdued by local savings unlike the USD-denominated CDS market) while UK CDS trades 24bps inside its Gilts 5Y yield - quite a difference. Flows have surged into both the Japanese and British markets as AAA safe havens 'were' in demand (until the all-clear appears to have been signaled recently?). The critical point here is that these two nations have devastatingly unsustainable debt/GDP ratios (which show no sign of deleveraging - unlike the US - ignoring unfunded liabilities) with both at just about 500% in total debt/GDP,  and yet in general UK trades far better than Japan. McKinsey's 'Debt and Deleveraging' note today points to significant increases in leverage for Japan, Spain, and France (and UK in the middle ground of rises in leverage for now). Of course none of this matters as clearly this debt will never be paid back and/or interest coverage will approach 100% of GDP (and perhaps that is the 100bps premium in CDS for JPY devaluation probability?).

KKR Avoids European Sovereigns On Austerity Concerns

While we are sure Mitt Romney would not care to comment, private equity firm KKR's Henry McVey is strongly suggesting investors should avoid European sovereigns in his 2012 Outlook. While his reasoning is not unique, it does lay out a fundamental fact for real money investors as he still does not feel that Core or Periphery offer value. Specifically noting that "fiscal austerity among European nations is likely to lead to lower-than-expected growth, which would ultimately increase the debt-to-GDP ratios of several countries in the coming quarters", the head of KKR's asset allocation group sees a slowdown in Europe as core macro risk worth hedging. Expecting further multi-notch downgrades across both the core (more like BBB than AAA) and periphery, McVey also concludes in line with us) that Greece may need to restructure again in 2012 and will disappoint the Troika.