Your one stop, comprehensive summary of the main bullish and bearish events in the past week.
With the EFSF, Italian and Spanish debt all creeping higher in yield today and a disappointing Italian auction, we take a deeper dive into the mechianics of the EFSF and the paradoxically weak impact it may have as sovereign risk deteriorates. The [EFSF] idea works well when people aren’t thinking there is a real chance of default, but as that increases, the EU may wish they had stuck to their original plan of having raised 440 billion of cash that they could lend directly. Basically, if the markets deteriorate, the first loss protection, is worth more, but provides less leverage.
The reason why the EURUSD took a big step lower in the past minutes is because Fitch has come out with a note in which it has assigned an AAA rating to the amended EFSF program. That in itself is not an issue, what is however, to the market is the announcement that a 50% Greek haircut would be an event of default. That said this is not to be confused with an ISDA determinations committee ruling that CDS has been triggered: we now know this will never happen and is the reason why basis trades across the board are exploding as all sovereign CDS is effectively being unwound. Regardless, the market does not seem to be liking the fact that someone's head is not stuck in the sand. Fitch also adds that it is critical that ECB carry on bond purchases, something which neither the ECB nor Germany have agreed to. It also adds that Greek PSI deal is a necessary step, and that the effectiveness of the summit deal depends on details. This is important considering Greece was barely able to get 85% acceptance in its 21% proposed haircut. The 50% will be even more interesting. Fitch concludes that the market is likely to see further market volatility. That is a given.
It has been long in coming but finally the credit market is noticeably refocusing its attention to the two countries that are supposed to carry the burden of bailing out the world on their shoulders: Germany, and, that perpetual placeholder for global rescues, China. As noted yesterday, while following today's anticipated ISDA decision to effectively make price discovery in CDS null and void, and in the process also put the whole premise of sovereign debt insurance into doubt, CDS still provides a very useful metric courtesy of the DTCC, namely open interest, or said otherwise, gross and net notional outstanding in the CDS. And while we will reserve the observation that not only did ISDA kill sovereign CDS, but in the process it also ended bilateral netting effectively pushing up net CDS to the level of gross, we will highlight that as of the last week, net notional in both German and China CDS has hit a record, of $19.6 billion and $9.3 billion, respectively. This is occuring as notionals in the two most active countries to date, France and Italy, have been declining. In essence, what the CDS market is telling us is that while the easy money in French and Italian default risk has been made, it is now finally the turn of China and Germany to defend their credit risk and sovereign spreads. We expect that if China is indeed confirmed to be the backstopper of Europe through funding the EFSF in whole or in part, that while its CDS may or may not surge, net notionals will continue to increase as it means that ever more are laying insurance, as hobbled as it may be, on the country which recently was forced to bail out its own banking system, let alone Europe. Keep a close eye on China, which while the bulk of the market is taking for granted as the global rescuer of last resort with hard money, the smart money is already positioning itself for the next big disappointment.
For those who have not been following, ISDA has released their updated Q&A on whether a 'voluntary' gun-to-my-head haircut of 50% is not a credit event. Nothing really new here but it clarifies much of what we have said with regard to their 'determinations' process and how they will defend their decision against a lot of very upset basis traders (who by the way were most supportive of both new issues and secondaries in the European sovereign market - well until now that is). And some persepctive: I don't believe that this "solution" has done that much and too many people are looking at sovereign CDS as a sign. I think as the news is digested, real details come out, Sovereign CDS will continue to gap tighter, bonds of Germany and France will continue to be weak, Italian and Spanish bonds will give up some of their gains, and CDS in MAIN and XOVER and IG will drift wider in response to moves in bonds rather than moves in sovereign CDS.
What is going on in Greek CDS is extremely important to watch, and take advantage of. Somehow CDS always attracts analogies to home insurance. It is most often written about in terms of being able to buy insurance on your neighbor's house and then set it on fire. I never thought that was a particularly good analogy, but now we have Greece on fire, and the insurance is potentially being cancelled. I remain bearish and doubt that this rally has much staying power since the plan doesn't actually fix anything, and it isn't even yet clear if it actually works in the near term. The sentiment has also changed dramatically and there are far more bulls than just a few days ago so the market is potentially now overbought. But for some long positions that play the technicals to maximum advantage I would target selling CDS where dealers are most vulnerable and the realization of what has happened in Greek CDS isn't fully priced.
Yesterday we pronounced sovereign CDS dead (a proclamation which will soon shift to all corporates now that companies are less risky than countries and the vigilantes refocus their attention, as the ability of the sovereign to onboard any more private sector debt is severely curtailed). The reason: the laughable "determination" that a Greek default and 50% bond write down is not an event of default. Maybe not to ISDA's 15 committee deciders (well 14: Barclays should vote no) but it is to the market. As a result, we have seen not only the biggest tightening in IG since May 2010 (11.3 bps tighter to 114.5), but a complete collapse in the sovereign complex, now that it is obvious that in addition to not being a speculative instrument (naked position will be banned in perpetuity), CDS are no longer even a hedging one. Expect the slow, gradual extinction of sovereign CDS, which will merely make the only possible way to hedge long cash govvie position the old-fashioned one: selling.
And, as expected, here is ISDA with the most farcical of decisions. From Reuters: "A new voluntary deal for holders of Greek debt to accept deeper losses is unlikely to trigger a 'credit event' that would cause a payout on default insurance, said a top lawyer at the International Swaps and Derivatives Association. Greek bondholders face losses of 50 percent under a plan to lower the country's debt burden and contain the euro zone's long-running debt crisis. The aim is to complete negotiations on the package by the end of the year. But because participation in the deal is voluntary rather than forced, it would typically not trigger payment on CDS contracts. "As far we can see it's still a voluntary arrangement and therefore we are in the same position as we were with the 21 percent when that was agreed," said David Geen, general counsel at derivatives body ISDA, referring to an original deal proposed in July that involved smaller bondholder losses. "The percentage (of losses), as far as the analysis for CDS purposes goes, doesn't change things. typically a voluntary arrangement won't trigger the CDS." Geen said the final decision on whether a credit event has occurred rested with the ISDA determinations committee, which would consider the issue when requested to do so by a CDS market participant." The fact that the decision is "voluntary" under duress from an entire political system which realizes its ponzi structure is collapsing is seemingly irrelevant. Luckily, the market is not all that stupid and the preliminary reaction is as expected, and to paraphrase Willem Buiter, "Failure to trigger Greek sovereign CDS when economic logic indicates this ought to occur would likely be detrimental to financial stability." But that's irrelevant. The EU has kicked the can down the road. Now it is literally a race for the fade to discover who is first to realize that as Zero Hedge and now RBS chimes in, "the EFSF is still too small to restore investor confidence."
Expectations of a grand plan may be on hold for a little while as the reality sets in for traders and asset managers alike this morning. Despite EUR strength, back above and holding a 1.40 handle, risk assets in general are less excited. European credit indices are opening tighter, as we would expect with higher beta outperforming. XOver -32bps and SENFIN -16bps may seem impressive but there is little follow-through in the underlying credits with most of the major European financials at best 5bps tighter (and notably BARC and LLOYD are wider). SovX is tighter by 14bps while underlying single-name Western European sovereigns are generally tighter with PIIGS unsurprisingly outperforming (though we have seen very few runs on Greece yet leaving it unch - which makes sense given the uncertainty). CEEMEA sovereigns are wider though (even if the index is compressing) as hedge unwinds seem the raison d'etre of trading desks today. Most importantly, the yield of EFSF bonds is rising (as we discussed yesterday), with the 2021s breaking back below Par. This makes sense as the sovereign risks are transferred to the supra-national EFSF entity and concentration risks are increased.
We have noted again and again that the seemingly single-minded effort to avoid a credit-event or involuntary restructuring is yet another one of the actions of an ignorant and ill-informed elite who simply do not understand the unintended consequences of any and everything they do to calm a desperate banking system. Today saw Willem Buiter, of Citigroup, agree with our perspective in terms of both the realistic lack of impact from a CDS event on Greece (per se) and moreover his perspective that the lack of a credit event could throw bond markets into a chaotic state as seemingly worthless CDS contracts and CTD bonds are tossed like hot potatoes from one smart banker to another smart hedge fund. Peter Tchir notes this evening that this is NOT a credit event and the only thing we know for sure is the sense of panic in the hearts of those holding the CDS-Cash basis package heading into tomorrow's illiquidity fest.
That the IMF believed banks would ever take a proper write down - reduce what they expect to be paid - is comical because the IIF proposal from the start was made to sound like a write-down even though it never was one. So now, as a massive bailout is about to be announced and the fear of a Credit Event at the EU and IMF is at epic proportions, the banks expect they will get taken care of. Sadly it is probably good for bank share prices short term if they win but the regulatory animosity may grow and the occupy movement will get a more recent and specific event to focus on. Since by now the EU should know where every single sovereign CDS trade is (because they must have asked the banks for that level of disclosure by now) they can go ahead and allow a good old fashioned default and kill some weak institutions and rebuild the system with healthier banks.
And so the second leg of the "triangle of terror" (recall Bank Funding Stress discussed earlier which is getting far worse by the day), "Sovereign Stress" returns with a vengeance. In other words, two out of three components of the European crunch have deteriorated to late September levels. Expect stocks and FX to follow shortly.
Several (all) European nations spent too much, borrowed too much and promised too much to their people. That led the market to question whether these countries could pay back their debt. That led to spread widening. As spreads widened and deficits increased, investors became concerned about the ability to roll over their debt. This caused spreads to widen further, CDS activity to pick up as investors want to hedge their positions and speculators want to profit from further weakness. Economic conditions decline. Debt grows more rapidly than forecast and current budget deficits increase. Rolling over debt in the public market becomes very difficult if not impossible. CDS trades in points up front and the yield curve inverts as the bonds trade on price rather than yield, with investors focusing on potential recovery. The solution that they are closest to "achieving" is the destruction of the sovereign CDS market. Naked short bans are on the way. Forced Restructuring that doesn't trigger a Credit Event is the current plan, and one of the EFSF or ECB is likely to sell protection. Sov CDS only has any bid because people don't believe they can force 100 per cent of bonds to restructure so their will be residual value as countries choose to pay off or default on the stub pieces.
While Europe was only kidding that it has a plan of a plan in the past two weeks, stocks and the EURUSD were both soaring higher, even as European core spreads were leaking ever wider fully aware that the equity market headfake was predicated primarily by FX repatriation by troubled US banks. Now that the post smooth talking euphoria has worn off, and it is Coyote Ugly time, stocks are not too happy, while spreads continue to push ever wider. Case in point is the Waffle-Bund spread, which as of a few minutes ago hit an all time wide spread of 235 bps, and rising. And as Peter Tchir pointed out earlier, the moves tighter in CDS is driven entirely on fears that any minute now Europe will ban all naked sovereign CDS. The immediate result of this will be to force hedging and negative sentiment to move to cash and lead to even bigger cash bond blow ups. But Europe's idiot regulators will find this out the hard way, just like the discovered that the best way to blow up your financial system is to ban all short selling in perpetuity.
So Europe is getting closer to announcing some form of ban on naked CDS. What they hope it will accomplish and what it will actually accomplish are two very different things. so what do they hope to get by banning naked shorts? They expect CDS to tighten. That will likely be the initial reaction. They expect a tightening in CDS to lead to improved purchases for bonds. That is unlikely to occur. Let's take a close look at Italy to show why their expectations are likely to be disappointed. First, it is important to remember that CDS on Italy trades in $'s and their bonds are denominated in Euros. That is a key difference. If you buy (or sell) CDS on Italy, the flows are in $'s. So as Italy widens you make money on the CDS. You would also make money being short Italy in the bond market. If the correlation between Italy widening, and Euro weakening is high, the CDS is a better way to be short. This creates a basis that is far more complex than a straightforward CDS where the CDS is denominated in the same currency as the underlying bonds. Unintended Consequences seems to have taken on a new meaning. Unintended consequences means to me, that a lot of thought went into the consequences and the end result surprised. I no longer believe that significant thought goes into the potential consequences. The analysts see what they want and get tunnel vision on the series of consequences they want to see, rather than really trying to figure out what might happen. Europe is not only behind the curve, they act like they are playing checkers with a 4 year old, when the markets are a game of chess, and they should be seriously analyzing the moves and countermoves that can occur before determining their next move. They also have to remember the risk side. So much focus is on the possible benefits of a “Grand Plan” that no resources are being devoted to what happens if that plan fails. Maybe they should strive for less potential upside to the plan in order to sure that this isn’t the last plan they can try.