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.
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.
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?).
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.
UPDATE: EFSF is denying it bought its own bonds. We suspect semantics as the denial is very specifically worded and EIB or ECB involvement is possible and frankly just as incredible. Perhaps the ECB really is the lender of ONLY resort.
We earlier discussed the desperate actions that occurred surrounding the EFSF self-aggrandizement this week and Peter Tchir, of TF Market Advisors, notes that the whole situation was bizarre and is becoming more and more Enronesque every day. But the lack of demand for EFSF debt is simply, as we have repeatedly pointed out, a factor of their own design and a symptom of the actions that a bloated lobbying IIF and the feckless politicians have taken. One of the obvious consequences of the EU and IIF decision to pursue this restructuring is they cannot fully rely on CDS, and markets will treat net exposure numbers with skepticism.
So banks will sell bonds/loans and unwind their CDS positions and manage their exposure the old fashioned way, by adding or reducing to their bond/loan position. That impact seemed obvious to everyone other than the EU and IIF. So the pseudo-private money (EU banks, EU pension funds, and EU insurance companies) are reluctant to buy EFSF bonds because they already have too much sovereign exposure, and the EU is likely to force "voluntary" changes on EFSF debt before it would on actual outright sovereign debt. Real private money is confused by the structure. Who does that leave? Only sovereign wealth funds and other supra-national entities.
EFSF is the bond only a mother could love.
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.
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.
Maybe the moment we should be trying to avoid is the one that allows weak institutions to exist. The weak institutions do not provide loans because they are too afraid of losses since they mainly survive by the good grace (and money) from governments at central banks. That is bad enough, but they crowd out new money. Who is going to go after markets where even a sleepy BAC could briefly wake up and crush you before you ever got started. I have heard of some interesting companies out there trying to provide loans to those who need them, but they can’t get any traction. Too Big To Fail aren’t too sleepy to allow potential competitors to grow. Stocks can rally. Lehman Moment can be said 500 times today. Every politician can worry about the impact of triggering CDS. Every banker can claim the world would end if they are made to pay for their bad decisions. In the end, Iceland and Ireland both improved only AFTER they let banks fail. The US, for all the talk about Lehman, is only doing worse than that since it decided banks couldn’t be allowed to fail.
Erste Group Reveals Stunner: Reports Billions In Previously Undisclosed Underwater Sovereign CDS; Who Is Next? And How Much More Is Out There?Submitted by Tyler Durden on 10/10/2011 13:36 -0500
Anyone looking at a heatmap of European markets today will see a sea of green punctuated by a very red island in the middle. The culprit: Austrian mega bank Erste, which issued an ad hoc and very unexpected press release, in which it warned that losses in its Hungarian and Romanian books would lead to a 14% hit, or €1.1 billion, to tangible book value, something that in itself is not a surprise to anyone (except the stress test). After all, since early 2010, most have known that due to Swiss Franc-based mortgage exposure, Hungary is next to follow in the PIIGS footsteps, and its collapse has so far been delayed due to lower overall public and private sector leverage. What was, however not only a surprise, but a shock, was 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.
Two months ago we said core European default risk is about to surge on risk transfer fears. This morning German CDS just hit a record. Yesterday, and on Friday, we said Belgium CDS is about to be monkeyhammered. Sure enough, Belgium is the worst performed of all European sovereigns, +18 on the day and soaring and threatens to go offerless as we type on imminent Dexia nationalization fears. And there's your alpha for the day.
Yesterday was a big day in the market for EFSF and Sovereign CDS. The announcements were big enough that some junior associates must be scrambling to update their pitchbooks. Here are my thoughts on what changes need to be done to the pitchbooks and the trading ideas that come as a result.
After taking a brief break last week, the UK is once again firmly in the top sovereign deriskers: a place it has held with pride for almost two months now. Summing up cumulative net notional exposure on the UK based on just the last several weeks results in a net short exposure of well over $3 billion. Someone has now amassed a huge short on the British Isles. Curiously, the country that was actually the top derisker in the past week, with $420 million in net notional change, was Brazil, the same Brazil which today decided to not lift any offers in its 2021 Fixed Coupon Bond auction. Is this the next hotbed of instability? Look for at least one more week of aggressive derisking before confirming this trend. Turkey completes the trio of top deriskers, with $172 billion in CDS. Surely with the prior week ending on May 28, there is no way anyone could have hedged for an Israeli incursion of Turkish ships ahead of time. On the other end, some of the names that have been making the news recently, have seen some material rerisking, probably based on short positional unwinds: the top five were the US, Japan, Austria, France and China. After tonight's news out of Tokyo, look for Japan to take its rightful place at the top of this table.
There are 4 hours until midnight in Germany. There are trillions in gross sovereign CDS notional. Germany alone had $71.4 billion in Gross CDS notional and $13.3 billion in net according to DTCC. Add up all of Europe and you get half a trillion. How on earth will the German market unwind these with all European traders already long gone. We also make the generous assumption that US CDS traders are still around: most of the BSDs tend to leave for the nearest Marriott Garden Inn by 1pm. So with naked CDS positions now verboten, who will be allowed to sell CDS? For a symmetric hedged transaction, anyone selling CDS (long credit), would have to be short cash govvies to be permitted to sell CDS. And who in their right mind would disclose that they are short anything. This is the most ill-thought out regulatory plan in the history of capital markets, and that, shockingly, includes the Frankenstein monster created by our own lame duck coruptus in extremis senator.
While we are not sure how Betty Liu feels about Rogers' invitation to come eat some Wienerschnitzel, what is certain is that Greek PM Papandreou is not too happy with the commodities pundit right about now. When asked should Europe bail out Greece, Jim says: "No, of course not, they should let Greece go bankrupt. It would be good for the euro, it would be good for Greece, it would be good for everybody." Alas, more true words have rarely been spoken. And with every financial professional already on the same side of the boat as Rogers, politicians are now left on their own to do what they know best: i.e., the wrong thing...and over and over again, and if someone can be blamed (evil, evil CDS speculators come to mind), so much the better. Also, should anyone wish to take a brave foray into the political arena (which appears is now the best paying job in the world, incidentally, just after Goldman CDS traders, hehe) on the crest of the anti CDS bashing, now is the time. It appears quite a few have risen to the challenge.
“We must succeed at putting a stop to the speculators’ game with sovereign states. We can’t allow speculators to be the profiteers of Greece’s difficult situation. Derivatives must be curbed.” - Angela Merkel