Earlier today, Jefferies made it all too clear that anyone found holding any PIIGS sovereign debt exposure, net AND gross, will be promptly punished by the market all the way down to the circuit breaker halt, until such party promptly offloads its GROSS exposure to some other greater fool, in the process gutting its entire flow trading desk. Courtesy of Bloomberg we may now know who the market will focus its attention on next: "Barclays has $12.5 billion sovereign risk, $20.1 billion of risk to corporations and another $10.2 billion to financial institutions. It also has $66.6 billion of exposure in its retail business, 86% of which is to Spain and Italy. Group and corporate-level risk mitigation (sovereign CDS, total return swaps) may reduce these exposures." Or, as the Jefferies case study demonstrated so vividly, it may not, and the only option will now be for Barclays to post daily releases with CUSIP breakdowns which will achieve nothing until Barclays follows in Jefferies footsteps and liquidates (at what is likely a substantial loss) all or at least half of its gross exposure. Thank you Egan Jones for starting a hot-potato avalanche that will keep banks honest. And woe to the last PIIGS sovereign debt bagholder.
Back To European Sov Exposure: Moody's Will Downgrade Austria's Erste Over Attempt To Hide Billions In Sovereign CDSSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 11/04/2011 09:09 -0500
Before MF Global went bankrupt due to European sovereign exposure, the smart money was that Austria's Erste would be "it." After all, recall from our October 10 post "that Erste disclosed some major losses on its €5.2 billion CDS portfolio, consisting of "EUR 2.4 billion related to financial institution exposures, and EUR 2.8 billion related sovereign exposures". Why is this a surprise? UK-based financial advisory Autonomous explains: "The fact that Erste had a sovereign CDS portfolio which was not marked-to-market has left many investors scratching their heads. As a reminder the EBA stress test data showed Erste to have zero sovereign CDS exposure within its sovereign mix compared to the €2.8bn it now appears to have ‘fessed up’ to (taking a cumulative €460m hit). They also have €2.4bn exposure to banks via writing of CDS. The bulk is non-PIIGS but banks spreads have moved in the same manner as sovereigns (albeit wider and more volatile)." And there you have it: the bogeyman that everyone has been warning about, yet nobody has seen, CDS written (as in sold) in bulk against other sovereigns and other banks which up until now were only mythical, as they, to quote the EBA (which had Dexia as its safest bank) simply did not exist. Oh, they exist all right, and what they do is create a toxic spiral of accentuating losses whenever the risk situation deteriorates, creating positive feedback loops of ever increasing losses until the next Dexia appears... and then the next... and the next. Expect the market to latch on to this dramatic revelation like a rabid pitbull once the hopium high from today's EURUSD short covering squeeze wears off." Of course, the market ignored this loud warning bell, and next hting you know MF was under. This time it won't be so easy, especially since Moody's just announced it is about to downgrade Erste precisely for this reason. This move also explains why the market is suddenly rife with rumors of a broad Austria downgrade.
Following this morning's busted issuance, it seems appropriate to take a deeper dive into the first-loss insurance that EFSF issuance may provide. There are still a lot of details to be worked out, but the €250 - €275 billion EFSF first loss insurance facility is starting to take shape. The amount of exposure that the EFSF can take in any form and retain the AAA rating is capped at €452 billion Euro – the amount of guarantees provided by the AAA entities. It looks more and more like the EFSF guarantees will be used in 3 different ways. A portion will be used to raise money to meet commitments already made to Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Another portion will be allocated to provide additional capital to banks. Finally, a portion will be used to back first-loss insurance and we note that the EFSF First-Loss Insurance Program is like Nothing We Have Ever Seen Before. Why we have wound up at the stage that issuing binary options on sovereign debt is a good solution, I don’t know, but since we are there, it might as well be done as well as possible.
The first three CDS ban attempts have failed. So has the coordinated ISDA attempt to make sovereign CDS a product with absolutely no functionality. The fourth time will be the charm though. The EFSF guarantees it! On the other hand, think of the massive EPS profit that Italy will post this quarter as a result of today's CDS blow out courtesy of the DVA accounting gimmick. Surely Dick Bove will imminently upgrade it to Dodecatuple Turbo Buy.
The duration of the European bailout was 48 hours give or take. And now reality is back in the form of the following headlines:
- Italian 10 Year BTP Yield surges to all time high 6.153% before ECB intervention takes it back to ... 6 122%
- Expressed in price, they have dropped to a record 90.697
- Italian-German 10 year yield passes 400 bps
- Italy CDS soar 22 bps to 427 bps
- Italy 5 Year yields bonds join drop, yield rises to over record 5.91%
See a trend? The one thing Europe was trying to avoid, contagion spreading to Italy, has happened.
With tonight's multi-year record CNY fixing and trillions being flushed at maintaining an arbitrary JPY line in the sand, it seems appropriate to re-consider how to hedge a China hard landing and what probabilities various asset classes are assigning to it occurring. While many are pointing to what seems an entirely capricious level of 79.20 JPY to the USD as the 'new normal' being defended, we were curious at the strange coincidence that the CNYJPY cross implied by tonight's CNY fixing and the 79.2 JPY was exactly the average CNYJPY level during the QE2 period. It seems the Japanese are hedging their tail-risk against the Chinese and a recent note by Morgan Stanley points to how various asset class traders might consider hedging their own version of a hard-landing scenario and notably they agree with us that China sovereign CDS remains among the 'best' hedge.
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.