'Til Debt Did Europe Part

'All is not resolved' is how Morgan Stanley's Arnaud Mares begins his latest diatribe on the debacle that is occurring in Europe. While a disorderly default seems to have been avoided (for now), the Greek problem (as we have discussed extensively) remains unsolved as debt sustainability seems questionable at best, economic recovery a remote hope, and the growing political tensions across Europe (and its people) grow wider. Critically, Mares addresses the seeming complacency towards a Greek exit from the euro area noting that it is no small matter and has dramatic consequences (specifically a la Lehman, the unintended consequences could be catastrophic). Greece (or another nation) leaving the Euro invites concerns over the fungibility of bank deposits across weak and strong nations and with doubt over the Euro, the EU could collapse as free-trade broke down. The key is that, just as in the US downgrade case last year, a Euro-exit implies the impossible is possible and the impact of such an event is much, much higher than most seem to realize. While the likelihood of a Greek euro-exit may remain low (for now), the scale of the impact makes this highly material and suggests the EU will do whatever it takes (print?) within their mandates to hold the status quo. For all practical purposes, it would be the end of the euro as a genuine single currency and to preserve the euro if Greece left would require total federalism in the rest of the area.

Greece Debt Deal: "Kicking Giant Beer Keg Down Road Risks Destroying The Road"

Those who have been correct about the crisis in recent years question whether a new Greek government will stick to the deeply unpopular program after elections due in April and believe Athens could again fall behind in implementation, prompting lenders to pull the plug once the eurozone has stronger financial firewalls in place. The much used phrase "kicking the can down the road" underestimates the risks being created by European and international policy makers. Some have rightly warned that we will likely soon run out of road. Rather than "kicking the can down the road" what politicians in Europe, in the U.S. and internationally are actually doing is "kicking a giant beer keg down the road".  The giant beer keg is the continual resort to cheap money in the form of ultra loose monetary policies, QE1, QE2, QE3 etc, money printing and electronic money creation on a scale never seen before in history. The road is our modern international financial and monetary system. The risk is that attempting to kick the giant beer keg down the road will lead to many broken feet and a destroyed road.  A European, US, Japanese and increasingly global debt crisis will not be solved by creating more debt and making taxpayers pay odious debts incurred through massively irresponsible lending practices of international banks. The likelihood of continuing massive liquidity injections by the ECB next week and in the coming weeks will help keep the opportunity cost of holding bullion the lowest it has ever been and likely contribute to higher bullion prices especially in euro terms in the coming months.

Beyond Greece: The Three Scenarios

As forecasts for peripheral macro data continue to deteriorate and core to strengthen modestly, there is little real comfort available from the European situation aside from the 800lb gorilla that all headlines are focused on today. Credit Suisse describes it as "a case of the outlook being less bad than expected, rather that it being better" and notes that post the Greek situation, despite the ongoing rally in the ever-thinning sovereign bond market, that risk premia (that were dangerously forgotten for the first decade of the Euro) will remain at elevated levels. CS sees three scenarios beyond Greece with even the best-case leaving questions of sustainability, trust, and continued negotiations yet the market's willingness to follow along the path of inevitably ruinous policies seems writ large with today's credit, equity, and FX strength.

Global Financial Systemic Risk Is Rising - Again

Credit markets in Europe remain significant underperformers relative to equities this week, despite some short-covering yesterday that narrowed the gap. Global Financial Systemic Risk is rising again - dramatically. It seemed that the dramatic shift from early to mid-week was enough to scare some action back into the market and we can't help but feel that the rallies in Spanish and Italian govvies (on what was very likely thin trading) was all central banks, all the time. Today saw stocks rally in Europe to new post-NFP highs while credit leaked wider off its open and closed on a weak tone into the US long-weekend. The end of the week felt much more like covering to flat than any aggressive re- or de-risking which seems appropriate given the rising risk of binary events and an inability to hedge those jumps.

"Lehman 2.0" Imminent Warns John Taylor

Hubris is at the heart of this. Everyone says this cannot happen – we won’t allow it. Says who? The EU says: if it is written in an agreement, it must be totally correct, unchangeable, and followed at all costs. New realities can’t intervene and no slippage is allowed. Why the Germans are so sure that they know the future is beyond me. They are fallible too, but they won’t admit it, and the Greeks can’t make them budge. Haven’t they looked around? Santorini has a different economic and social cost structure than Wiesbaden. Humanity (and common sense) seems totally lacking in the negotiations with the Greeks and a violent backlash would be totally understandable. Why the countries that have been fattening up their current account surpluses selling products to Greeks, whom they should have known were basically broke – just as they always have been – should be paid 100% on the euro is beyond me. Major losses should apply not only to sovereign borrowings but also to accounts receivable for cars, electronics, and other consumer goods. The market has not opened its eyes to the impact this Greek unraveling will have. The Eurozone will be mortally wounded and the world will suffer a significant recession – maybe as deep as 2008. European banks will lose much of their capital base and many should be bankrupt, but just as in the Lehman aftermath, the governments will try to save the banks and the banks’ bondholders, solvent or not. As the bank appetite for Eurozone sovereign paper will be decimated, austerity will probably follow shortly, followed by deflation and uncontrollable money creation. The European recession should be one for the record books.

A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To Negative

For a while now we have said that the very weakest link in Europe is not the banks, not the ECB, not triggered CDS, and not even the shadow banking system (well, infinitely rehypothecated Greek bonds within a daisychain of broker-dealers, which ultimately ends up at the ECB at a negligible repo discount, that could well be the weakest link - we will have more to say about this over the weekend) but two very specific insurers: Italy's mega insurer Assecurazioni Generali, which at last check had more Greek bonds as a % of TSF than anyone else, and Europe's biggest insurer and Pimco parent, Allianz, which is filled to the gills with pretty much everything (for more on Generali, or as we like to call it by its CDS ticker ASSGEN read here, here, here, and here). Well, Moody's just gave them, and the entire European space, the evil eye, and soon the layering of margin calls upon margin calls, especially if and when Greece defaults and a third of ASSGEN's balance sheet is found to be insolvent, will make anyone who still is long CDS those two names rich. Assuming of course the Fed steps in and bails out the counterparty the CDS was purchased from.

Latest Market Frenzy: Sell Europe, Buy Apple

The divergence between credit markets and equities accelerated today in Europe (and the US) as Senior and Subordinated financial credit spreads have increased dramatically in the last week. While risk has risen over 25% in financials, European stocks have gone sideways since the NFP print. The Subordinated financials spread has risen the most (in percentage terms) over the last 4 days since Nov2010 - and of course the broad equity markets are flat. It would seem that every trader and their mom is selling European financials and buying AAPL.

Europe Opens Weak Ignoring Overnight US Exuberance

European corporate and financial credit markets are opening weak this morning - ignoring the exuberance in overnight ES futures (11,000 contracts in seconds on rumor of China for 10pt jump?) which is also leaking back rapidly to VWAP (even as European equity markets continue to levitate). Financials especially are now beyond yesterday's wides with subordinated spreads the underperformer for now. This extends from our comments yesterday that were picked up on CNBC with regard to the 'stigma-trade' in LTRO-encumbered banks (which is widening further this morning) as well as broad divergence between stocks and credit. Concerns over Ireland's fiscal consolidation plans balanced with a very slight beat on German GDP (though still negative) are seeing EURUSD leak back off its best levels of the night after it bounced off 1.31 in late US trading (on Samaras rumors then extended by this China chatter). Gold and Silver are pushing higher while Copper and Oil are stable for now (though notably up from yesterday's European close). European sovereigns are quiet for now while US Treasuries are slightly better bid.

Moody's Downgrades Italy, Spain, Portugal And Others; Puts UK, France On Outlook Negative - Full Statement

You know there is a reason why Europe just came crawling with an advance handout looking for US assistance: Moody's just went apeshit on Europe.

  • Austria: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative
  • France: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative
  • Italy: downgraded to A3 from A2, negative outlook
  • Malta: downgraded to A3 from A2, negative outlook
  • Portugal: downgraded to Ba3 from Ba2, negative outlook
  • Slovakia: downgraded to A2 from A1, negative outlook
  • Slovenia: downgraded to A2 from A1, negative outlook
  • Spain: downgraded to A3 from A1, negative outlook
  • United Kingdom: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative

In other news, we wouldn't want to be the company that insured Moody's Milan offices.

European Financials At Worst Levels In Two Weeks

Since last Wednesday, European financials have seen credit spreads widen dramatically. After some initial gains today, they once again retreated and traded out to their widest levels in two weeks as both financials and non-financials closed wider and at their worst levels of the day in European credit. Sovereigns also deteriorated significantly after around 8amET with 10Y BTPs for instance adding 20bps or so to close unch (as the rest of the major sovereigns saw de minimus +2 to -4bps changes). Bunds and Treasuries stayed close together and we note TSYs rallied 7bps (from +4 to -3bps) from early morning Europe trading and leaked off a little into the close. WTI is holding above $100 even as Copper is down 1% while Gold and Silver's gains are in sync with USD's modest losses - though EUR is leaking back lower (holding just above 1.32) into the close to around unch. While this post-Thanksgiving Day rally was perhaps predicated on global growth (US decoupling, China soft landing) and extended by LTRO (contagious bank insolvency runs risk containment), the underperformance of banks' credit risk in the last few days should be very worrisome with Senior unsecured credit wider by over 30bps in 3 days, its largest deterioration in two months.

Proof Of LTRO Bank Stigma, Or Why Mario Draghi Is Lying

Earlier in the week we began discussing the stigma that would likely be attached to the banks that decide to borrow from the ECB via the LTRO. Many talking heads including Mario Draghi himself, arbiter in chief of all risky collateral in Europe, dismissed this - reflecting back at the compression in credit spreads in the market-place as evidence that all was well and confidence was returning. In the last week our (senior unsecured debt) index of LTRO-ridden banks has underperformed non-LTRO-ridden banks by 23bps to a 75bps differential. This is the largest divergence since the LTRO began and corrects off mid-Summer tight levels of difference as the critical flaw that we also pointed out earlier in the week (that of the implicit subordination of bank assets via ECB's LTRO collateralization). Credit Suisse agrees with us and expounds on 'the flaw' in the LTRO scheme noting that the market is fickle and self-sustaining at times (as we have seen) but over time (and that time appears to be up this week), the market will weigh the liability side of the balance sheet versus the asset side, less haircuts (which implies haircuts will become the de facto capital requirements) and inevitably (given bank earnings potential) reflect this huge differential - most specifically in the senior unsecured debt market. With few shorts left to squeeze, spreads back at pre-crisis levels and financials having dramatically outperformed even large gains on sovereigns, the weakness in senior financial debt in Europe this week is more than just a canary in the coal-mine, it should become the pivot security for risk appetite perception.

Europe Ends Week On Ugly Note

We have been warning of the bearish divergence in European credit markets all week and today saw that trend continue as the best-performers of the year-to-date become the biggest losers on the week. Financials and high-yield (crossover) credit have dramatically underperformed this week (with XOver +50bps touching 600bps once again) as credit overall trades considerably wider than before the NFP-print jump. Investment grade is wider but diverging a little today as decompression trades are laid back out and up-in-quality trades are reconsidered - and away from financials which have seen their senior unsecured credit spreads jump from under 190bps to almost 220bps on the week. Broad equity markets in Europe also saw their worst week of the year but are lagging the credit sell-off for now and sit (for context) right around the pre-NFP jump levels. Sovereigns were mixed on the week with the last couple of days seeing notable deterioration. Spanish spreads are +33bps, Italian spreads are -9bps on the week but are 25-30bps off their tights but it appears Portugal was the darling of the ECB this week as it managed an impressive 100bps compression (10Y now almost 500bps off its wides on 1/30) but this impressive tightening only gets the peripheral nation back to 1050bps (and mid-January levels - still triple the level of risk of a year ago).