The Fool's Game: Unravelling Europe's Epic Ponzi Pyramid Of Lies

Now in the curious world we live in today; this only came out in public as the answer to a question raised in the German Parliament. Some reflection on the nature of these guarantees, that the European Union had decided not to tell us about, causes me to think of them as “Ponzi Bonds.” These are the seeds of a great scheme that has been foisted upon us. Bonds of a feather that have flocked together and arrived with the black swans one quiet Wednesday afternoon. The quoted and much ballyhooed sovereign debt numbers are now known to be no longer accurate and hence the lack of credibility of the debt to GDP data for the European nations. Stated more simply; none of the data that we are given about sovereign debt in the European Union is the truth, none of it. According to Eurostat, as an example, the consolidated Spanish debt raises their debt to GDP by 12.3% as Eurostat also states, and I quote, that guaranteed debt in Europe “DO NOT FORM PART OF GOVERNMENT DEBT, BUT ARE A CONTINGENT LIABILITY.” In other words; not counted and so, my friends, none of the data pushed out by Europe about their sovereign debt or their GDP ratios has one whit of truth resident in the data.

Jens Weidmann Defends Bundesbank Against Allegations Of TARGET2-Induced Instability

We have previously discussed the substantial, and growing, threat to the German economy that is the Bundesbank's negative TARGET2 balance, which we have formerly dubbed Europe's €2.5 trillion closed liquidity loop, which just rose to a new record over €550 billion (in "Has The Imploding European Shadow Banking System Forced The Bundesbank To Prepare For Plan B?", "Goldman's Take On TARGET2 And How The Bundesbank Will Suffer Massive Losses If The Eurozone Fails", and most recently  in "Dear Germans: Bring Out Ze Checkbooks") which in turn merely represents the taxpayer funded capital flow to insure that the Eurozone remains solvent for one more day as Germany's peripheral trading partners receive rescue capital every day in the form of recycled German current account surplus. It now appears that the Bundesbank president has taken to these allegations of monetary instability strongly enough to where he has just released the following response on Target2 in "What is the origin and meaning of the Target2 balances?" Full letter below.

Will The 3rd Time Be The Charm For European Credit Bears?

What do European credit markets know that equities don't? For the 3rd day in a row, credit markets snapped higher at the open and have then sold off considerably - diverging bearishly from European equities. At the same time, European sovereigns (most notably the pivot securities of Italy and Spain) are now 20-25bps wider (in spread) from Friday's Greece 'deal' announcement. European financials are underperforming dramatically.

Mark Grant On The Increased Risks of Owning European Sovereign/Bank Debt

Many lessons are available to learn from the Greek debt crisis. Several more are probably to come as the intended and unintended consequences of what the Europeans have done begin to infect the bond markets. I point this morning to the vast differences now between the ownership of American debt and European debt and, as the immediate effects of the LTRO begin to wear off, several dawning realizations that I think will cause European debt to gap out against American debt regardless of the yields of Treasuries.  

Encumbrance 101, Or Why Europe Is Running Out Of Assets

Since the much-heralded 3Y LTRO program was envisioned and enacted, we have been clear in our perspective that while this appears to have signaled a removal of downside (contagion-driven) tail-risk for banks (and implicitly to sovereigns), the market's perceptions are once again short-termist. Missing the 'unintended-consequence' for the 'sugar high' is the forest-and-trees analogy that we have seen again and again for the past few years but we worry that this time, given the sheer size of the program, that the ECB has got a little over its skis. By demanding collateral for their bottomless pit of low-interest loans, the ECB has not only reduced banks' necessary deleveraging needs (and/or capital raising) but has increased risk for all bond-holders (and implicitly equity holders, who are the lowest of the low in the capital structure remember) as the assets underlying the value of bank balance sheets are now increasingly encumbered to the ECB. Post LTRO, Barclays notes that several banking-systems (PIIGS) now have encumbered over 15% of their balance sheets but LTRO merely extends a broader trend among European banks (pledging collateral in return for funding) and on average (even excluding LTRO) 21% of European bank assets are now encumbered, and therefore unavailable for unsecured bond holders, ranging from over 50% at Danske (more a business model choice with covered bonds) to around 1% for Standard Chartered. As the liquidity-fueled euphoria starts to be unwound, perhaps this list of likely stigmatized banks is the place to look for higher beta exposure to the downside (especially as we see ECB margin calls start to pick up).

European Sovereigns And Financials Close On Weak Tone

Once again European credit and equity markets flip-flopped intraday from a gap up open (yay, the PSI deal is done) to a modest financial-led selloff on weak data, to a non-financial-led small rally (with equity beating credit post US NFP) to a slide weaker into the European close. Financials (most notably senior unsecured) were the worst performers on the day as stocks managed small gains and credit bigger losses. European sovereign spreads also leaked wider all day after some initial excitement with Italian 10Y spreads 15-20bps off their best levels of the week into the close (and Portugal also leaking wider). US Treasuries continued to selloff as US equities limped higher but EURUSD is pushing back to the week's lows near 1.31 as JPY is also deteriorating (which is modestly stable for carry FX and implicitly risk). Commodities surged (seemingly on Goldman's GDP cut implying great er hopes of QE?) with Gold up over $1710 and almost unch for the week as WTI nears $108 again. As Europe closes, there is a modest derisking across all asset classes (with US and European financials the most obvious rollers). The Precious metals rip and Treasury weakness makes us wonder how much is QE-driven (especially given the sterilized propositions) and how much is simply a rotation to a different kind of safety or quality collateral? The LTRO Stigma is around 8bps (or 10%) higher on the week while Senior-Sub spreads are stable for now.

Greek Holdouts Buoyed By Overnight Argentina Bond Precedent

As the week's panacea event (no, not iPad3) draws ever closer, overnight news our of Argentina may be critical for any fence-sitting Greek PSI holdouts. As Reuters reports, a US judge has ruled in favor of a holdout creditor forcing Argentina to pay $650mm interest and principal on their long-forgotten defaulted/restructured debt. Argentina defaulted on $100bn bonds in 2002 and has yet to return to the international capital markets. While the Argentinians continue to litigate holdouts, the judge's decision in favor of these so-called 'vulture funds' (an affiliate of Elliott Management) offers renewed confirmation of considerable payouts in time for Greek bond PSI holdouts. Argentina's whiny reasoning that "bondholders who did not take part in the 2005 and 2010 debt swaps do not deserve full recovery because it is unfair to bondholders who accepted less" sums up the perspective of cram-downs and forced action that sovereigns will try to take. The vulture-fund litigation (and successful precedent here) blocks any new debt operations by Argentina until settlement is reached. This coincides with Bingham McCutchen's committee of Swiss-law Greek bond holders who look set to holdout or 'protect the rights of bondholders' as there appears to be several investors actively considering all of their options, including litigation - but as noted above, litigation can take years (though returns could conceivably be very large given par payouts of bonds trading sub-20% currently).

Worst Day In Europe Since Rally Began

While we have noted the comparative weakness in European credit and sovereign markets, stocks had so far remained hopeful until today. Bloomberg's broad BE500 index of European stocks fell 2.8% today, its worse performance  since mid-November when the recent rally began. This one-day drop has wiped out the gains of the last five weeks in stocks and credit is even worse as it continues to lead risk lower. European financial stocks are catching up to European credit's weakness (and we note US financial credit is really coming off today). Whether or not to BTFD is the question. We note that this sell-off is much more broad-based with stocks and credit dropping together (instead of just credit last time) and across asset classes the weakness is in CONTEXT with broad derisking. Furthermore, Sovereign credit stress re-emerged with Spain and Italy up 26bps and 18bps on the week as the former is now at almost 4 week wides. At some point, we wonder when MtM losses will hit all those aggressive Italian and Spanish banks who loaded up on chaotically procyclical carry trades?

Reggie Middleton's picture

Not many websites, analysts or authors have both the balls/temerity & the analytical honesty to take Goldman on. Well, I say.... Let's dance! This isn't a collection of soundbites from the MSM. This is truly meaty, hard hitting analysis for the big boys and girls. If you're easily offended or need the 6 second preview I suggest you move on.

The Lull

We are in “The Lull” which has been caused by the injection of capital by the Fed and by the ECB. This is exactly, exactly, what took place I remind you during the weeks after the subprime mess exploded. Massive injections of capital, run-ups in equities, compression in bonds, higher prices for commodities and then the reversal of course took place. When easing ends then the course back tracks and I predict a re-do of this in the coming months. It will not take some trigger event, though there may well be one, to cause this; just the easy money being placed and no more manufactured money to follow.

“As the well runs dry the throat parches and dehydration begins.”

-The Wizard