Sovereign CDS

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.

Sovereign CDS, EFSF, And The IIF

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 CDS

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.

European Sovereign CDS Blowing Out Again

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.

Banks, Credit Events, And Sovereign CDS

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?

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.

Euro Sovereign CDS Rerack: Germany Hits Record; Belgium Imploding

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.