2012: The Year Of Hyperactive Central Banks

Back in January 2010, when in complete disgust of the farce that the market has become, and where fundamentals were completely trumped by central bank intervention, we said, that "Zero Hedge long ago gave up discussing corporate fundamentals due to our long-held tenet that currently the only relevant pieces of financial information are contained in the Fed's H.4.1, H.3 statements." This capitulation in light of the advent of the Central Planner of Last Resort juggernaut was predicated by our belief that ever since 2008, the only thing that would keep the world from keeling over and succumbing to the $20+ trillion in excess debt (excess to a global debt/GDP ratio of 180%, not like even that is sustainable!) would be relentless central bank dilution of monetary intermediaries, read, legacy currencies, all to the benefit of hard currencies such as gold. Needless to say gold back then was just over $1000. Slowly but surely, following several additional central bank intervention attempts, the world is once again starting to realize that everything else is noise, and the only thing that matters is what the Fed, the ECB, the BOE, the SNB, the PBOC and the BOJ will do. Which brings us to today's George Glynos, head of research at Tradition, who basically comes to the same conclusion that we reached 2 years ago, and which the market is slowly understand is the only way out today (not the relentless bid under financial names). The note's title? "If 2011 was the year of the eurozone crisis, 2012 will be the year of the central banks." George is spot on. And it is this why we are virtually certain that by the end of the year, gold will once again be if not the best performing assets, then certainly well north of $2000 as the 2009-2011 playbook is refreshed. Cutting to the chase, here are Glynos' conclusions.

Markets React To Reality

Following three-in-a-row weak macro prints, the market broadly speaking is not happy. The S&P is 10 points off its pre-Case-Shiller highs, EURUSD is dropping rapidly back towards 1.31, Treasury yields are falling 3-5bps across the curve, and Commodities are giving back their spike gains from pre-US day session open. FX carry seems like a major driver for now with AUDJPY and EURJPY most notable while the drop in the curve and levels of the Treasury complex are adding to downward pressure on stocks. Credit and equity markets are dropping in lockstep for now (with HYG more volatile than its peers). The rally in European sovereigns has stalled here as longer-dated spreads are now widening off their intraday tights (10Y BTP back up to 6% yield) while PGBs give back some of their ECB-enthused rally (~20bps off tights now). US equities and CONTEXT (the broad risk proxy) are in line as they drop here.

Will Seasonal Slump Drive Derisking?

The so-called January-Effect is almost at an end and if the market closes near these levels, the S&P 500 will have managed a 4.4% gain or its 20th best January since 1928 (84 years) and best since 1997. The outperformance of banks and sovereigns (LTRO) and the worst-of-the-worst quality names (most-shorted Russell 3000 stocks +9% YTD vs Russell 3000 +5.2%), as Morgan Stanley noted recently, is not entirely surprising since the January effect is considerably larger in mid-cap and junk quality names than any other size or quality cohorts. We have pointed to the seasonal positives in high-yield credit and volatility and along with the obvious short squeeze in S&P futures (which has seen net spec shorts come back to balance recently), we, like MS, are concerned that the tailwinds of exuberance that virtuously reflect from seemingly pivotal securities (such as short-dated BTPs now or Greek Cash-CDS basis previously) very quickly revert to a sense of reality (earnings and outlook changes) and perhaps the slowing rally and rising volatility of the last few days is the start of that turbulence.

Europe Has Worst Day In Six Weeks

The divergence between credit and equity marksts that we noted into the European close on Friday closed and markets sold off significantly. European sovereigns especially were weak with our GDP-weighted Eurozone credit risk index rising the most in six weeks. High beta assets underperformed (as one would expect obviously) as what goes up, comes down quicker. Stocks, Crossover (high-yield) credit, and subordinated financials were dramatically wider. Senior financials and investment grade credit modestly outperformed their peers but also saw one of the largest decompressions in over a month (+5.5bps today alone in the latter) as indices widen back towards their fair-values. The 'small moderation' of the last few weeks has given way once again to the reality of the Knightian uncertainty Europeans face as obviously Portugal heads squarely into the cross-hairs of real-money accounts looking to derisk (10Y Portugal bond spreads +224bps) and differentiate local vs non-local law bonds. While EURUSD hovered either side of 1.31, it was JPY strength that drove derisking pressure (implicitly carry unwinds) as JPYUSD rose 0.5% on the day (back to 10/31 intervention levels). EURCHF also hit a four-month low. Treasuries and Bunds moved in sync largely with Treasuries rallying hard (30Y <3% once again) and curves flattening rapidly. Commodities bounced off early Europe lows, rallied into the European close and are now giving back some of those gains (as the USD starts to rally post Europe). Oil and Gold are in sync with USD strength as Silver and Copper underperform - though all are down from Friday's close.

Greece Politely Declines German Annexation Demands

Following yesterday's frankly stunning news that the Troika politely requests that Greece hand over its first fiscal, then pretty much all other, sovereignty to "Europe", here is the Greek just as polite response to the Troika's foray into outright colonialism:


What is interesting here is that unlike the highly irrelevant IIF negotiations which will end in a Greek default one way or another, the real plotline that should be followed is this one: because unless Germany, pardon the Troika, gets the one condition it demands, namely "absolute priority to debt service" and "transfer of national budgetary sovereignty", as well as a "constitutional amendment" thereto. there is no Troika funding deal. Furthermore, since as a reminder the PSI talks are just the beginning, the next step is ensuring compliance, as was noted yesterday ("[ceding sovereignty] will reassure public and private creditors that the Hellenic Republic will  honour its comittments after PSI and will positively influence market access"), any refusal to implement such demands is an automatic dealbreaker. Which means anything Dallara and the IIF say, as representatives of a steering committee that at this point probably constitutes of one bondholder, with the bulk having shifted to the ad hoc committee, is irrelevant. Germany just got its answer. And the next step is, as Zero Hedge first suggested, an epic LTRO in precisely one month, whose sole purpose will be to prefund European banks ahead of the Greek default with enough cash to withstand Europe's Bear Stearns. Although as a reminder, in the US, Bear Stearns only led to Lehman and the global "all in" gambit to preserve the financial system by shifting bank insolvency risk to the sovereigns (a chart showing bank assets as a percentage of host countries' GDP can be found here). But who will bailout the world's central banks which already collectively hold over 30% of global GDP in the form of "assets", or as this term is better known these days, debt?

Fitch Gives Europe Not So High Five, Downgrades 5 Countries... But Not France

Festive Friday fun:


And some sheer brilliance from Fitch:

  • In Fitch's opinion, the eurozone crisis will only be resolved as and when there is broad economic recovery.

And just as EUR shorts were starting to sweat bullets. Naturally no downgrade of France. French Fitch won't downgrade France. In other news, Fitch's Italian office is about to be sacked by an errant roving vandal tribe (or so the local Police will claim).

Is Europe Starting To Derisk?

While the ubiquitous pre-European close smash reversal in EURUSD (up if day-down and down if day-up) was largely ignored by risk markets today (as ES - the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract  - did not charge higher and in fact rejected its VWAP three times), some cracks in the wondrously self-fulfilling exuberance that is European's solved crisis are appearing. For the first day in a long time (year to date on our data), European stocks significantly diverged (negatively) from credit markets today. While EURUSD is up near 1.3175 (those EUR shorts still feeling squeezed into a newsy weekend), only Senior financials and the investment grade credit index rallied today, while the higher beta (and better proxy for risk appetite) Crossover and Subordinated financial credit index were unchanged to modestly weaker today (significantly underperforming their less risky peers). European financial stocks have dropped since late yesterday - extending losses today - ending the week up but basically unch from the opening levels on Monday. High visibility sovereigns had a good week (Spain, Italy, Belgium) but the rest were practically unchanged and Portugal blew wider (+67bps on 10Y versus Bunds, +138bps on 5Y spread, and now over 430bps wider in the last two weeks as 5Y bond yields broke to 19% today). The Greek CDS-Cash basis package price has dropped again which we see indicating a desperation among banks to offload their GGBs and needing to cut the package price to entice Hedgies to pick it up (and of course some profit-taking/unwinds perhaps). All-in-all, Europe's euphoric performance has started to stall as perhaps the reality of unemployment and crisis in Europe combine again with US's GDP miss to bring recoupling and reinforcement back.

Just How Much Control Over Central Banks Do The People Have?

Formal central bank independence is increasingly under pressure as societal preferences for a lender of last resort savior grow ever stronger (and more priced into nominal risk markets) as do demands for politicizing the monetary authorities under the pretext that they should more politically independent. Morgan Stanley takes on the question of constitutionality among the G3 Central Banks and rather unsurprisingly finds the mandates, targets, and prohibition treaties to be 'flexible' at best and 'practically meaningless' at worst. We-the-people appear to have little if any remit to constrain - even if our collective call for more printing leads to 'be careful what you wish for' reactions, as Michael Cembalest noted yesterday, "first prize in the Central Bank balance sheet expansion race is not necessarily one you want to win".

Volume Crashes As Stocks End Unchanged

Amid the lowest NYSE volume of the year (-24% from Friday - OPEX) and pretty much the lowest non-holiday-period volume in 9 years based on Bloomberg's NYSEVOL data, ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) ended the day almost perfectly unchanged underperforming 5Y investment grade and high-yield credit indices on the day as both moved to contract tights (their best levels since early August last year) even as their curves flattened. There has been lots of chatter about how the steepening of the short-end of the European sovereign bond markets (Italian 2s10s for instance) is a sign that all-is-well in the world again, well unfortunately the flattening of the short-end of US IG and HY credit markets sends a rather less positive signal than headlines might care to admit (as jump risk in the short-term remains 'high' relative to bullish momentum in the medium-term). At the same time, vol markets are showing extreme levels of short-term complacency as 1m VIX is almost at record low levels relative to 3m VIX (and diverging today from implied correlation). Broadly speaking , risk assets rallied into the US day session open only to sell off into the European close (with Sovereigns leaking back the most). The afternoon saw risk rallying as the path of least resistance appears to be up all the time there is no news. Stocks ended well off their highs of the day, in line with broad risk assets, as TSY yields rose 3-4bps higher, Oil and Copper 1.5-1.75% higher (outperformed) while Silver and Gold hugged USD weakness at around a 0.5% gain from Friday's close.

Subordination 101: A Walk Thru For Sovereign Bond Markets In A Post-Greek Default World

Yesterday, Reuters' blogger Felix Salmon in a well-written if somewhat verbose essay, makes the argument that "Greece has the upper hand" in its ongoing negotiations with the ad hoc and official group of creditors. It would be a great analysis if it wasn't for one minor detail. It is wrong. And while that in itself is hardly newsworthy, the fact that, as usual, its conclusion is built upon others' primary research and analysis, including that of the Wall Street Journal, merely reinforces the fact that there is little understanding in the mainstream media of what is actually going on behind the scenes in the Greek negotiations, and thus a comprehension of how prepack (for now) bankruptcy processes operate. Furthermore, since the Greek "case study" will have dramatic implications for not only other instances of sovereign default, many of which are already lining up especially in Europe, but for the sovereign bond market in general, this may be a good time to explain why not only does Greece not have the upper hand, but why an adverse outcome from the 11th hour discussions between the IIF, the ad hoc creditors, Greece, and the Troika, would have monumental consequences for the entire bond market in general.

LTRO Version 0.2

LTRO version 1.0 continues to capture the market's attention.  It was a reason to rally, then fade, now back to an excuse to rally. Our contention all along has been that LTRO was good for banks.  It dramatically reduced the liquidity risk for banks. It did nothing for the solvency of banks or sovereigns, and we continue to believe it doesn't do anything for the liquidity risk of sovereigns. We think the belief that the carry trade is at work is a fallacy. Banks did NOT take down LTRO to buy new assets and are still in deleveraging mode, so will NOT use the next LTRO offering to take on new money. We will see what happens but Peter Tchir believes that the second tranche of LTRO will be a pale comparison of the first in terms of size which will damage market excitement over how much of the "carry" trade is going on.

Guest Post: Bailouts + Downgrades = Austerity And Pain

Nowhere in S&P’s statement about “global economic and financial crisis”, did it clarify that sovereigns were hit due to backing their largest national banks (and international, US ones) which engaged in half a decade of leveraged speculation. But here’s how it worked: 1) Big banks funneled speculative capital, and their own, into local areas, using real estate and other collateral as fodder for securitized deals with derivative touches. 2) They lost money on these bets, and on the borrowing incurred to leverage them. 3) The losses ate their capital. 4) The capital markets soured against them in mutual bank distrust so they couldn’t raise more money to cover their bets as before. 5) So, their borrowing costs rose which made it more difficult for them to back their bets or purchase their own government’s debt. 6) This decreased demand for government debt, which drove up the cost of that debt, which transformed into additional country expenses. 7) Countries had to turn to bailouts to keep banks happy and plush with enough capital. 8) In return for bailouts and cheap lending, governments sacrificed citizens. 9) As citizens lost jobs and countries lost assets to subsidize the international speculation wave, their economies weakened further. 10) S&P (and every political leader) downplayed this chain of events.... The die has been cast. Central entities like the Fed, ECB, and IMF perpetuate strategies that further undermine economies, through emergency loan facilities and  bailouts, with rating agency downgrades spurring them on. Governments attempt to raise money at harsher terms PLUS repay the bailouts that caused those terms to be higher. Banks hoard cheap money which doesn’t help populations, exacerbating the damaging economic effects. Unfortunately, this won't end any time soon.

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.

Sovereigns At One-Month Tights Ahead Of Capital-Raise-Plan and Debt-Swap Deadline

The rolling euphoria continues. European sovereigns have performed well again today with a significant surge into the close (helped earlier by ECB buying and optically successful auctions). Italian 10Y is trading back at 450bps over Bunds (one-month tights) and European banks ripped higher in equity and credit markets (as belief in capital raising plans takes hold). As we noted earlier, GGBs have been underperforming all week but equities and credit seem unstoppable here. USDJPY has crumbled in the last hour or so (around the same time as sovereign spreads started to accelerate their compression) and Treasuries (and Bunds) are very significantly underperforming (with the former now 13bps higher in 30Y for the week). While the dollar continues to weaken (and EUR strengthen back over 1.29) commodities are 'oddly' rolling over with Copper, Oil, Gold, and Silver all well off their earlier highs as Europe closes.