And now for something completely different. Citi's Willem Buiter is best known for his exhaustive, often times fatalistic outlook on Europe (he will ultimately be right about the Grexit, and Spexit, and ultimately Dexit, the only problem is so will Meredith Whitney about the state of the US municipals - eventually). It appears there may have been a reason for his dour outlook on life: a sexy stalker as it turns out. A sexy, but very demented stalker.
We would assume that tomorrow's ECB meeting will be the usual smug gloating by Draghi of how the market has turned around so exuberantly and implicitly that means all is well. While Willem Buiter just took that complacent perspective to task, we thought the following six simple charts of Good (well not terrible), Bad, and Ugly macro-economic data would simplify reality...
Citi's Willem Buiter sums it all up: "...the improvement in sentiment appears to have long overshot its fundamental basis and was driven in part by unrealistic policy and growth expectations, an abundance of liquidity and an increasingly frantic search for yield. The key word in the recovery globally, and in particular in Europe, growth is fragile. To us the key word about the post summer 2012 Euro Area (EA) asset boom is that most of it is a bubble, and one which will burst at a time of its own choosing, even though we concede that ample liquidity can often keep bubbles afloat for a long time." His conclusion is self-evident, "markets materially underestimate these risks," as the EA sovereign debt and banking crisis is far from over. If anything, recent developments, notably policy complacency bred by market complacency, combined with higher political risks in a number of EA countries highlight the risks of sovereign debt restructuring and bank debt restructuring in the EA down the line.
While still of the belief that a wholesale disintegration of the European Monetary Union remains a distinct tail-risk event, Citigroup's chief economist Willem Buiter succinctly summarizes his core view as "the euro-area will stumble and bumble towards an eventual resolution." However, that 'final' solution does not look like your grandma's European Union as he expects nothing more than a "continued Monetary Union, probably without Greece, having undergone both major sovereign debt restructurings in the periphery and financial debt restructurings for banks in the periphery and core." Transcribed from a three-minute clip, Buiter eloquently answers three key questions: How is the Euro crisis (and its consequent solution) shaping up? Does Germany have the upper-hand? and What sort of moral hazard issues might we see in the near future? He concludes "we won't have a smooth solution to this crisis."
The reason for the ramp in risk as attributed by various buyside desks as to what recently has become the trademark of more hope, prayer and magic from Jefferies' (yes, Jefferies is driving the market for once, who wouldathunk it) David "SPOOS" Zervos, whose latest note that the Fed will follow the ECB and cut its overnight excess reserves rate to -0.25% has picked up some traction, and is causing a modest rise in risk markets. Here is the problem: the Fed will NOT do this, and certainly will not do this for months and months as not only would it destroy the US money market, general colalteral, unsecured and virtually every other overnight market instantaneously (and not even Ben is that dumb to trade a few trillion in private sector overnight funding for 10% in the S&P), but even as Zervos says this is nothing short of a thought experiment in what may happen: "Whether it happens or not is not the point. The issue is that we are not priced for it AT ALL." Correct David: they are unprepared because it will not happen. The Fed will do much more LSAP, and even that other flow-based lunacy, NGDP targeting, before it decides to blow up overnight markets (not to mention destroy the entire Primary Dealer risk analytics system all of which is based on positive flow from Reserves). Because if the Fed telegraphs it is ending the inflows from reserves experiment started 3 years ago, we better be having 4% GDP growth. Reality check: we have 1.1% Q2 annualized GDP. Finally, that whole ECB experiment with negative Deposit Rates led to... absolutely nothing... correction: it led to yet another plunge in Spanish and Italian yields: something the Fed is quite aware of.
While Citi's Willem Buiter believes that the new coalition in Greece removes the very short-term risk of GRexit, as he notes in an Op-Ed in the FT today that "minimum demands for relaxation of fiscal austerity by the new government will not exceed the maximum fiscal austerity concessions Germany is willing to make", he does think the TROIKA "unlikely to tolerate another failure to comply on all fronts by the December assessment" leading to an end-2012 Armageddon a la the Maya. The "willful non-compliance" with the conditionality of the TROIKA program also brings doubt on the willingness of core eurozone nations to "take on significant exposures to Spain and Italy unless it can be established unambiguously that a willfully and persistently non-compliant program beneficiary will be denied further funding". His succinct summation of the "onion-like unpeeling and unraveling" of the Euro's endgame is perfectly described as: "The greatest fear of the core nations is not the collapse of the euro area but the creation of an open-ended, uncapped transfer union without a surrender of national sovereignty to the supra-national European level" as he sees material risk of "procrastination and policy paralysis".
Greece is on its way to becoming a "new, critical fragile state," and the ECB and EU will have to keep it on life support for years after it exits the common currency.
Two weeks of utter confusion by most market participants out there, when the complete deja vu scenario is so very clear. To help out those banging their heads over what is happening, here, once again, is the full playbook as it was laid out here for eveyone to read and prepare, because it explained to the dot precisely what will happen, and has been happening since May 19. And yes, that 1000 bps on XO is still about 25% away... Do the math.
The story of Facebook’s disappointing IPO is a gripping tale, and it holds some valuable lessons. But it concerns an event that has already happened. Forget Facebook — there are far more interesting events in play and that will affect you, if only at the margins. They haven’t happened yet, and they may not happen at all. But if they do, you’d sure as hell better have a plan.
The big banks are getting restless. Nowhere is this more evident than in the latest just released letter from Citi's European Credit Strategy, literally a letter to Europe's trio of leading politicians, which follows hot on the heels of yet another recent Citigroup missive from Willem Buiter, which was largely ignored in the noise, yet which made it all too clear that when all else fails, it is the Chairman's sworn duty to paradrop money. Because if anyone, it is the banks that know that if things aren't fixed (they aren't), it is up to the central banks to do something to prevent the vigilantes from forcing the politicians hands, as they did in the summer and fall of 2011 (which will not provide a long-term fix, but at least allow bankers to hope that the next collapse won't take place before bonus season). As Citi says, "Until the gravity of the situation is made clear, until the self-reinforcing mechanisms that already seem to be in motion are understood, we don't see how the solutions, the answers, and the certainty that market craves can be brought to the table." Which simply means that things are about to get much, much worse as it will be up to the markets to bring the world to the edge of collapse once again, just so Europe, with the help of the Fed of course, once again is forced to get over the political bickering and prop up risk assets, in yet another iteration of "this time it's different", even though it isn't. Sure enough: "Our impression is that markets will need to act as the proverbial 'attack dog', forcing the issue on the political agenda. We can't escape the sense that it is probably politically easier to let the markets run loose for the time being to make it apparent that further intervention is needed. But 1000bp on Crossover is much closer than you imagine." In other words, Citi just gave the green light for the bottom to fall from the market just so Europe's increasingly impotent political elite does something, anything. Look for many more banks to sign off on the same letter.
The social bubble may be on the verge of popping, but that doesn't mean that various soon to be extinct offshots can't provide cheap bang for the taxpayer buck. Such as this particular offer which we are fairly certain the Chairman, with Willem Buiter whispering in his ear, is taking a long, hard look at...
Now that the Greek exit is back to being topic #1 of discussion, just as it was back in the fall of 2011, and the media has been flooded by groundless speculation posited by journalists who have never used excel in their lives and are merely paid mouthpieces of bigger bank interests (long live access journalism and the book sales it facilitates), it is time to rewind to a step by step analysis of precisely what will happen in the moment before Greece announces the EMU exit, how the transition from pre to post occurs, and the aftermath of what said transition would entail, courtesy of one of the smarter minds out there, Citi's Willem Buiter, who pontificated precisely on this topic last year, and whose thoughts he has graciously provided for all to read on his own website. Of course, take all of this with a huge grain of salt - these are observations by the chief economist of a bank which will likely be swept aside the second the EMU starts the post-Grexit rumble.
George Soros has been a busy man the last few days. Appearing at the INET Conference a number of times and penning detailed articles for the FT (and here at Project Syndicate) describing the terrible situation in which Europe finds itself - and furthermore offering a potential solution. Critically, he opines, the European crisis is complex since it is a vicious circle of competing crises: sovereign debt, balance of payments, banking, competitiveness, and structurally defective non-optimal currency union. The fact is 'we are very far from equilibrium...of the Maastricht criteria' with his very clear insight that the massive gap, or cognitive dissonance, between the 'official authorities' hope and the outside world who see how abnormal the situation is, is troublesome at best. Analogizing the periphery countries as third-world countries that are heavily indebted in a foreign currency (that they cannot print), his initial conclusion ends with the blunt statement that "the euro has really broken down" and the ensuing discussion of just what this means from both an economic and socially devastating perspective: the destruction of the common market and the European Union and how this will end in acrimonious recriminations with worse conflicts between European states than before.
After two months of quiet from the old world, Europe is again on the radar, pushing futures in the red, and the EURUSD lower, following a miss in March European Economic and Consumer confidence, printing at 94.4 and -19.1, on expectations of 94.5 and -19.0, as well as an Italian 5 and 10 Year auction which seemingly was weaker than the market had expected, especially at the 10 Year side, confirming the Italian long-end will be a major difficulty as noted here before, and pushing Italian yields higher (more on the market reaction below). The primary driver of bearish European sentiment continues to be a negative Willem Buiter note on Spain, as well as S&P's Kramer saying Greece will need a new restructuring. Lastly, the OECD published its G-7 report and reminded markets that Italian and likely UK GDP will shrink in the short-term. This was offset by better than expected German unemployment data but this is largely being ignored by a prevailing risk off sentiment. In other words, absolutely nothing new, but merely a smokescreen narrative to justify stock declines, which further leads us to believe that next week's NFP will be worse than expected as discussed last night.
We were delighted to see that the old headline scanning algos are still in charge of the FX market following "news", which were not even news, having been expected by absolutely everyone, that the EU is about to propose an expansion of Europe's bailout fund to a total of €940 billion for one year, by merging the €440 billion EFSF and €500 billion ESM - leading to a very transitory spike in the EURUSD. From Bloomberg: "European governments are preparing for a one-year increase in the ceiling on rescue aid to 940 billion euros ($1.3 trillion) to keep the debt crisis at bay, according to a draft statement written for finance ministers. The euro-area finance chiefs will probably decide at a meeting in Copenhagen March 30 to run the 500 billion-euro permanent European Stability Mechanism alongside the 200 billion euros committed by the temporary fund, a European official told reporters earlier today in Brussels. Beyond that, they are also set to allow the temporary fund’s unused 240 billion euros to be tapped until mid-2013 “in exceptional circumstances following a unanimous decision of euro-area heads of state or government notably in case the ESM capacity would prove insufficient,” according to the draft dated March 23 and obtained by Bloomberg News." Three things here: 1) Of the bombastic €940 billion in headline bailout money, only €300 billion or so will actually be available (sorry PIIGS - you can't bail out the PIIGS, also a third of the EFSF money is already tied up); 2) Europe is already preparing for the fade of the impact of the LTRO, which as pointed out earlier, has not only peaked, but courtesy of the LTRO stigma, which we suggested months ago to trade by going long non-LTRO banks and shorting-LTRO recipients, is starting to hurt all those firms who thought, foolishly, that the market would not go after them. They were wrong. And now Draghi is also boxed in an runaway inflation corner. And 3) Europe is back to the old mode of thinking that more debt will fix debt, even as the banking sector is forced to delever ahead of Basel III and due to shareholder requirements. This simply means that the eye of the hurricane over Europe's sovereign debt is about to pass. Those who miss 7% yields on BTPs won't have long to wait. Reality is once again starting to reassert itself.