We discussed the start of a new breed of bond issuance in Europe earlier in the week. The Ponzi Bond was born and today Banco Espirito Santo, of Portugal, came to the market (was there really an external demand?) and issued EUR1bn of three-year debt guaranteed by none other than the 16.4% yielding-equivalent three-year Portuguese government. Peter Tchir notes that "If the Japanese created the 'zombie' banks, the Europeans are perfecting them." On the bright side, the ECB has saved itself the effort of creating a "bad bank" and has just become one.
We have previously eschewed the constant refrain of any and every talking head who pounds the table on adding to equity risk on the basis of 'low' interest rates - why wouldn't you earn the higher dividend? or how much lower can rates go? However, aside from the drawdown-risk and empirical failure of the stocks-bonds arguments, there are three very pressing reasons currently for reconsidering the status quo of bonds against equities. Volatility in equity markets has been considerably higher than bonds and even at elevated earnings yields, it is no surprise that risk-savvy investors prefer a 'safer' lower-vol yield. Furthermore, when compared to a long-run modeling of business cycle shifts in stocks and high yield credit markets, stocks remain notably expensive to the credit cycle. Simply put, corporate bonds are at best offering better value than stocks if your macro position is bullish (and are forced to put money to work) and at worst suggest being beta-hedged is the best idea (or market-neutral) or in Treasuries.
CMA Now Officially Assumes 20% Recovery In Greek Default - Time To Change Sovereign Debt Risk Management Defaults?Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/05/2012 16:18 -0400
One of the ironclad assumptions in CDS trading was that recovery assumptions, especially on sovereign bonds, would be 40% of par come hell or high water. This key variable, which drives various other downstream implied data points, was never really touched as most i) had never really experienced a freefall sovereign default and ii) 40% recovery on sovereign bonds seemed more than fair. Obviously with Greek bonds already trading in the 20s this assumption was substantially challenged, although the methodology for all intents and purposes remained at 40%. No more - according to CMA, the default recovery on Greece is now 20%. So how long before both this number is adjusted, before recovery assumptions for all sovereigns are adjusted lower, and before all existing risk model have to be scrapped and redone with this new assumption which would impact how trillions in cash is allocated across the board. Of course, none of this will happen - after all what happens in Greece stays in Greece. In fact since America can decouple from the outside world, it now also appears that Greece can decouple from within the Eurozone, even though it has to be in the eurozone for there to be a Eurozone. We may go as suggesting that the word of the year 2012 will be "decoupling", even though as everyone knows, decoupling does not exist: thank you 60 years of globalization, $100 trillion in cross-held debt, and a $1 quadrillion interlinked derivatives framework.
As seems obvious from the market's reaction over the last week, European problems are not solved by short-term liquidity band-aids. In fact, as Goldman notes this week, the same economic and political risks remain even if some funding relief has been put in place. With sovereigns and financials leading one another to new lows since the LTRO, the negative feedback loops remain in full force. Given the difficulties on the road ahead – and significant ongoing differences across governments on how to resolve them – the risk of political miscalculation or errors is unfortunately still very clear. In the limit, those instabilities could still put the union on a path towards a break-up. Economic weakness in the meantime will intensify the challenges for the weaker sovereigns.
The New Year has ushered in a new pattern for the market - or perhaps has clarified an old one. The last 3 days has seen European credit markets notably underperform equity markets but stage a significant rally around the equity close each day. This rally then flops into US markets. Today was no different from yesterday - EURUSD leaked lower (holding under 1.28 here) all through the European day session - the question is whether we will see the same stability we saw during yesterday's US afternoon session in FX which will enable the equity strength to hold. We suspect not given that broad risk assets (CONTEXT) has notably not participated in the equity markets pull higher so far. At the same time as Europe closed, with financials massively underperforming, US financials were breaking out as XLF went green and BofA broke above $6. Volumes are above yesterday but below Tuesday for this time of day - still notably low on a medium-term basis. TSYs have been very volatile this morning but European sovereigns have been on a one-way path wider all day - closing near their wides. Commodities are lower (USD strength) but Gold is holding up relatively best for now - well above $1600.
Gold's fifth day of price rises is the longest rally we've seen in two months. Concerns about the solvency of European banks and sovereigns is overcoming the 'risk on' appetite of late 2011 and early 2012. The euro has fallen to 1.2840 USD and to €1,256/oz. Growing tensions with Iran including the European Union's preliminary agreement to ban Iranian oil, will fuel gold's safe haven status for investors. Gold is trying to consolidate above psychological levels of $1,600/oz, £1,000 and €1,200/oz. The 200 day moving average is $1,631.60 which remains resistance. The intraday high hit $1,624.66, was gold's highest price since December 21. We expect gold demand to pick up ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, The Year of the Dragon, which begins on January 23.
UPDATE: EFSF said to get EUR4bn of orders for 3Y issue is providing some cover (at what rate? We offer to buy 1tn at 300% yield...)
With plenty of time left until France unleashes its supply (and a dismal consumer confidence print earlier), there is a plethora of notable market moves: Unicredit is halted down 7.9% (seems to be the culprit for the initial risk-off turn in Europe), but Deutsche Bank is down over 5% on liquidity problem rumors, EURUSD traded under 1.2850 at its lowest level since September 2010, 10Y Italian bonds have pushed well above 7% yields and 510bps spread to Bunds as Unemployment rises to 8.6%, Belgian 10Y yields are over 4.5% - highest in 3 weeks, and the rest of European Sovereigns are all leaking wider (near wides of the year). Risk assets (CONTEXT) broadly are under pressure but ES (the S&P 500 e-mini futures contract) is holding off yesterday's early morning lows for now. Commodities are all dropping fast with Gold (actually outperforming in this slide) back at $1615, Oil at $102.50, and Copper approaching $340. Treasuries are bid but trading in line with Bunds' movements so far in general. Some chatter of ECB buying in the last few minutes is stabilizing things a little here.
Bill Gross Exposes "The New Paranormal" In Which "The Financial Markets And Global Economies Are At Great Risk"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/04/2012 08:50 -0400
In his latest letter, Bill Gross, obviously for his own reasons, essentially channels Zero Hedge, and repeats everything we have been saying over the past 3 years. We'll take that as a compliment. Next thing you know he will convert the TRF into a gold-only physical fund in anticipation of the wrong-end of the "fat tail" hitting reality head on at full speed, and sending the entire house of centrally planned cards crashing down. "How many ways can you say “it’s different this time?” There’s “abnormal,” “subnormal,” “paranormal” and of course “new normal.” Mohamed El-Erian’s awakening phrase of several years past has virtually been adopted into the lexicon these days, but now it has an almost antiquated vapor to it that reflected calmer seas in 2011 as opposed to the possibility of a perfect storm in 2012. The New Normal as PIMCO and other economists would describe it was a world of muted western growth, high unemployment and relatively orderly delevering. Now we appear to be morphing into a world with much fatter tails, bordering on bimodal. It’s as if the Earth now has two moons instead of one and both are growing in size like a cancerous tumor that may threaten the financial tides, oceans and economic life as we have known it for the past half century. Welcome to 2012...For 2012, in the face of a delevering zero-bound interest rate world, investors must lower return expectations. 2–5% for stocks, bonds and commodities are expected long term returns for global financial markets that have been pushed to the zero bound, a world where substantial real price appreciation is getting close to mathematically improbable. Adjust your expectations, prepare for bimodal outcomes. It is different this time and will continue to be for a number of years. The New Normal is “Sub,” “Ab,” “Para” and then some. The financial markets and global economies are at great risk."
The bond market has always had clever names for bonds in specific markets. Eurobonds, Yankee bonds, Samurai bonds, and now, Ponzi bonds. I’m not sure what else to call these new bonds, but Ponzi bonds seems as good as anything. NBG issued these bonds to themselves, got a Greek government guarantee (how can a country that can’t borrow, provide a guarantee?) and took these bonds to the ECB to get some financing. The ECB won’t buy National Bank of Greece bonds directly, they won’t buy Hellenic Republic bonds in the primary market, but they will take these ponzi bonds as collateral? Greece, and Italy, is sacrificing the people and the country for the good of the bank. The market had made some attempt to charge banks with bad risk management, awful assets, and opaque books, more than they charged the country they were domiciled in. But rather than let the market (and common sense) rule, a mechanism to let banks fund themselves cheaper than the countries they rely on, was created. Asides from giving Ponzi a bad name (at least until the ECB just admits that they are printing faster than even Big Ben) this is tying the banks and the countries ever closer. A long, long, time ago (1 month) it was conceivable that a bank could fail and the sovereign survive. That is becoming less clear.
One of the reports making the rounds today is a previously little-known academic presentation by Princeton University economist Hyun Song Shin, given in November, titled "Global Banking Glut and Loan Risk Premium" whose conclusion as recently reported by the Washington Post is that "European banks have played a much bigger role in the U.S. economy than has been generally thought — and could do a lot more damage than expected as they pull back." Apparently the fact that in an age of peak globalization where every bank's assets are every other banks liabilities and so forth in what is an infinite daisy chain of counterparty exposure, something we have been warning about for years, it is news that the US is not immune to Europe's banks crashing and burning. The same Europe which as Bridgewater described yesterday as follows: "You've got insolvent banks supporting insolvent sovereigns and insolvent sovereigns supporting insolvent banks." In other words, trillions (about $3 trillion to be exact) in exposure to Europe hangs in the balance on the insolvency continent's perpetuation of a ponzi by a set of insolvent nations, backstopping their insolvent banks. If this is not enough reason to buy XLF nothing is. Yet while CNBC's surprise at this finding is to be expected, one person whom we did not expect to be caught offguard by this was one of the only economists out there worth listening to: Ken Rogoff. Here is what he said: "Shin’s paper has orders of magnitude that I didn’t know"...Rogoff said it’s hard to calculate the impact that the unfolding European banking crisis could have on the United States. “If we saw a meltdown, it’s hard to be too hyperbolic about how grave the effects would be” he said. Actually not that hard - complete collapse sounds about right. Which is why the central banks will never let Europe fail - first they will print, then they will print, and lastly they will print some more. But we all knew that. Although the take home is the finally the talking heads who claim that financial decoupling is here will shut up once and for all.
We are 30 minutes into the day session. Do you know where your sanity is? Silver and Oil (over $102) are up 3.5% from last week's close, Copper and Gold up 1.5-2% and the USD down 0.7%. The USD weakness, along with Treasury selling, is enough to juice stocks up nicely as they catch up to yesterday's European extravaganza. European sovereigns are giving back a lot of their gains from yesterday so far but ECB buying chatter is supporting BTPs at the moment. US financials are up 2.8% as the Treasury-Stock disconnect of last week converges rapidly.
There Is No Joy In Muddlethroughville: World's Biggest Hedge Fund Is Bearish For 2012 Through 2028, And Is Long GoldSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/02/2012 23:33 -0400
That Ray Dalio, famed head of the world's largest (and not one hit wonder unlike certain others) hedge fund has long been quite bearishly inclined has been no secret. For anyone who missed Dalio's must see interview (and transcript) with Charlie Rose we urge you to read this: "Dalio: "There Are No More Tools In The Tool Kit." For everyone who is too lazy to watch the whole thing, or read the transcript, the WSJ reminds us once again that going into 2012 Dalio's Bridgewater, which may as well rename itself Bearwater, has not changed its tune. In fact the CT hedge fund continues to see what we noted back in September is the greatest threat to the modern financial system: a debt overhang so large, at roughly $21 trillion, that one of 3 things will have to happen: a global debt restructuring/repudiation; global hyperinflation to inflate away this debt, or a one-time financial tax on all individuals amounting to roughly 30% of all wealth. That's pretty much it, at least according to mathematics. And according to Bridgewater. From the WSJ: "Bridgewater Associates has made big money for investors in recent years by staying bearish on much of the global economy. As the new year rings in, the hedge fund firm has no plans to change that gloomy view...What you have is a picture of broken economic systems that are operating on life support," Mr. Prince says. "We're in a secular deleveraging that will probably take 15 to 20 years to work through and we're just four years in." So basically scratch everything between 2012 and 2028? But, but, it was that paragon of investment insight Jim "Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept" O'Neill keeps telling us stocks will go up by 20%... stocks will go up by 20%....stocks will go up by 20%...
As EURUSD leaks very gently lower into the new year (but stocks popped excitedly across quiet European markets that lacked a bond market supervisor to keep them honest), we thought it might be interesting to look at the relative strength of the Euro against six different measures. From FX option risk-reversals to ECB's European Bank Lending statistics, QE and sovereign risk relationships to Fed/ECB balance sheet dynamics, and finally from futures commitment of traders data to EUR-USD swap spread frameworks, the results are unsurprisingly mixed with a bias towards EUR weakness. Between the European auctions (and redemptions) of the next two weeks, and the FOMC meeting on the 24-25th January, we face quite a rude awakening from the low volume holiday week malaise.
UPDATE: Spanish bonds are leaking wider after the defiict projection looks set to be significantly worse than previously expected.
Something strange is happening in European risk markets this week. While that sentence is entirely 'normal' for what has become a diverging/converging flip-flopping correlation microstructure but the clear trend this week has been European Sovereign derisking and European Stock rerisking. The Bloomberg 500 index (that tracks a broad swathe of European stocks) is up 0.75% from Christmas Eve (and 1.6% from yesterday's lows) while 10Y sovereign spreads are wider by 10 to 30bps in the same period. France stands out as one of the worst performers - more than 25bps wider this week alone. Only Spain is notably improved on the week (-17bps) but all 10Y sovereigns are well off their best levels as stocks make new highs. Whether this is a front-run on asset rotation into the new year or expectations of the same risk-on ramp-job we saw on the first trading of this year is unclear - we do remind those front-runners that mutual fund cash levels are significantly lower this year than last. It is clear that yet another 'sensible' correlation (such as BTPs to equities) has broken but when volumes return and the reality of the huge supply calendar we face in the next month alone sinks in, perhaps equity ebullience will pull to bond bereavement. If stocks are reacting to a quasi-QE from the ECB, why wouldn't sovereigns who are the direct beneficiaries in that surreal LTRO-driven-carry trade?
Risk markets are tearing higher globally with equities, commodities, and credit all considerably higher. Equities and CONTEXT are back in line as this is a very systemic shift up as the dollar tanks and TSY yield surge. US equities are back to 11/18 levels but are stalling out a little here as the initial spike wears off - whether this liquidity surge fixes the insolvency crisis is the question it seems markets are considering now that they have had some time to think (and squeeze). Silver and Copper seem the largest movers for now along with AUD relatively speaking as most equity and credit assets are back to 11/18 levels. We do note that while sovereign spreads in Europe are narrower, the moves are not dramatic and in some cases are actually deteriorating still.