Yesterday, when the rumor (because it has not been confirmed by the ECB, and most certainly not by the Bundesbank) that the ECB would distribute its "gains" (i.e., personally fund the difference between cost basis and par on Greek bonds - incidentally, a development which BUBA president Jens Weidmann has said would only happen over his dead body) we urged readers "to ignore the constant barrage of meaningless noise and flashing red headlines" as apparently nobody who trades the EURUSD has any clue what subordination means or has ever participated in any debt for equity transaction. Specifically, with regard to the idiotic EURUSD reaction we said: "Today [yesterday] is a great case in point of a tangential detour which does nothing to change the reality that Germany no longer wants Greece in the Eurozone (remember, oh, yesterday), and that the ECB is merely playing possum with PSI creditors who will block the deal with even greater vigor than before (anyone recall the FT story about the PSI deal being on the verge of collapse not due to the ECB but due to private creditors?) as the ECB's even bigger subordination will simply make the amount of hold outs even greater." We concluded by assuming that "algos will take the required 12-48 hours to figure out what just happened today." Well, the algos are still lost in idiot vacuum tube world, but at least the banks are starting to comprehend what the 'deal' really means and that the Nash Equilibrium is even worse than before. From Bloomberg: "A plan being considered by the European Central Bank to shield its Greek bond holdings from a restructuring may hurt the euro because it implies senior status for the ECB over other investors, UBS AG said. “There are at least two euro-negative dimensions, which will likely lead to euro weakness” as a result of the plan, Chris Walker, a foreign-exchange strategist at UBS in London, wrote in a research report today." Once again, we urge all FX traders to read our primer on subordination, and why and how it will define trading this year, as reactions such as the one yesterday confirm that the market is not only broken but also very stupid. Which is just as those in charge like it.
One of the redeeming features of the failed experiment known as Europe, at least to date, was that while everyone else may bicker, squabble and posture, Germany, or the true core of the Eurozone kept a cohesive front, and at least pretended to have a unified view vis-a-vis daily events. This is no longer the case, as the approach as pertains not only a broke Greece but every other insolvent European country has now caused a schism at the very top, and created a rift between Angela Merkel (whose political position was dealt a huge blow today with the resignation of German President Wulff) and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. Goldman explains.
- German president resigns in blow to Merkel (Reuters)
- China central bank in gold-buying push (FT)
- Germany Seeks to Avoid Two-Step Vote on Greek Aid, Lawmakers Say (Bloomberg)
- Eurozone central bankers and the taboo subject of losses (FT)
- Bernanke: Low Rates Good for Banks in Long Run (WSJ)
- Cameron and Sarkozy to test rapport at talks (FT)
- Chinese Enterprises encouraged to invest in US Midwest (China Daily)
- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley have reduced their use of "mark-to-market" accounting (WSJ)
- Regulators to raise trigger for rules on derivatives (FT)
Plunging deeper into the farce-hole, the FT reports tonight that Obama's foreclosure settlement with the banks over their improper seizure of tax-paying US citizens' homes will in fact be subsidized by those very same US taxpayers. It is a hidden clause (that has not been made public yet) that allows the banks to count future loan modifications under the $30bn (taxpayer funded) HAMP initiative towards their $35bn agreement to restructure obligations under the new settlement. As the FT goes on to note, BofA will be able to use future mods made under HAMP towards the $7.6bn in borrower assistance it is committed to provide - which means, in a (as TARP inspector general Neil Barofsky describes) 'scandalous' turn of events the bank will receive payments for averting a borrower default and be reimbursed by the taxpayer for the principal write-down. We have much stronger words for how we are feeling about this but Barofsky sums it up calmly "It turns the notion that this is about justice and accountability on its head". Are the Big Five banks truly beyond the law?
Credit Suisse The Sequel: "Probability Of The Largest Disorderly Default Loss In History On March 20 Has Increased"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/16/2012 - 22:09
A week ago we presented an excerpt from Credit Suisse's most excellent piece "The Flaw" - merely the latest in one of the best overviews of the neverending Greek soap opera by William Porter. Yet every soap opera eventually ends. Although when it comes to Nielsen ratings, the denouement is usually a whimper. In the case of Greece, it will be anything but. Yet listening to the daily cacafony of din from Europe's leaders, who are likely more clueless than the average reader as to what is really going on, one may be left with the impression that there is a simple solution to the problem, and Greece may be "saved... in hours." It can't. In fact, as of today, Porter's s conclusion is: "we are left with a sense that the probability of delivering the largest default loss in history in a disorderly way on or before 20 March has increased relative to doing so in an orderly way."
Today, instead of some arcane chart showing in some complex fashion the simple fact that only excess liquidity drives excess returns, we present something more in tune with the latest bubble du jour: social networking. As part of its social media survey Goldman Sachs asked respondents what is the main reason for people to "log on" to various social networking venues. The answer, by a wide margin, is the expected one: namely to spy, and to compare whether our lives are more boring, less glitzy and exciting, with fewer gadgets, gizmos, smaller houses or cars, and generally more in debt, than our "friends." Of course, the politically correct way of saying this is "to see what my friends are doing." In other words, there is nothing new about social media but a millennia-old regurgitated phenomenon- it is merely a new locus of exhibiting and observing social status, to see and be seen. One which can be enjoyed 24/7. At least, until something better comes along.
Today, Rand’s fictional world has seemingly become a reality – endless bailouts and economic stimulus for the unproductive at the expense of the most productive, and calls for additional taxation on capital investment. The shrug of Rand’s heroic entrepreneurs is to be found today within the tangled ciphers of corporate and government balance sheets. The US Federal Reserve has added more than $2 trillion to the base money supply since 2008 – an incredible and unprecedented number that is basically a gift to banks intended to cover their deep losses and spur lending and investment. Instead, as banks continue their enormous deleveraging, almost all of their new money remains at the Fed in the form of excess reserves. Corporations, moreover, are holding the largest amounts of cash, relative to assets and net worth, ever recorded. And yet, despite what pundits claim about strong balance sheets, firms’ debt levels, relative to assets and net worth, also remain near record-high levels. Hoarded cash is king. The velocity of money (the frequency at which money is spent, or GDP relative to base money) continues to plunge to historic lows. No wonder monetary policy has had so little impact. Capital, the engine of economic growth, sits idle – shrugging everywhere.
Financial credits remain the big underperformer hinting at much less risk appetite than USD-based stocks would indicate for now but broad risk assets staged an impressive bounce recovery on better than average volumes today as early weakness in Europe was shrugged off with better-than-expected macro data in the US (claims and Philly Fed headlines) and then later in the morning the story in the ECB Greek debt swap deal. We discussed both the macro data and the debt swap deal realities but the coincident timing of the ECB story right into the European close (when we have tended to see trends reverse in EUR and risk anyway) helped lift all risky asset boats as USD lost ground. The long-weekend and OPEX tomorrow likely helped exaggerate the trend back today but we note HYG underperformed out of the gate and while credit and stocks did rally together, the afternoon in the US saw stocks limp higher on lagging volumes (and lower trade size) as credit leaked lower. Treasuries sold off reasonably well as risk buyers came back (around 8bps off their low yields of the day pre-ECO) but rallied midly into the close (as credit derisked). Commodities all surged nicely from the macro break point this morning with Copper best on the day but WTI still best on the week. Silver is synced with USD strength still (-0.25% on the week) as Gold is modestly in the money at 1728 (+0.4% on the week) against +0.47% gains for the USD still. FX markets abruptly reversed yesterday's USD gains with most majors getting back to yesterday's highs. GBP outperformed today (at highs of the week) and JPY underperformed (lows of the week). VIX shifts into OPEX are always squirly and today was no different but we did see VIX futures rise into the close. We wonder if the last couple of days of Dow swings and vol spikes and recoveries will remind anyone of the mid-summer day swings last year?
Sprott strategist John Embry has never been a fan of the existing financial system. Today, he makes that once again quite clear in this interview with Egon von Grayerz' Matterhorn Asset Management in which he says: "I think that the current financial system, as we know it, will be totally destroyed, probably sooner rather than later. The next system will require gold backing to have any legitimacy. This has happened many times in history." Needless to say, he proceeds to explain why a monetary system based on gold, one in which one, gasp, lives according to one's means, is better. Logically, he also explains why the status quo, whose insolvent welfare world has nearly a third of a quadrillion in the form of unfunded future liabilities, will never let this happen. Much more inside.
Today, the US total debt rose by $32 billion touching on a new record high of $15.392 trillion. As a reminder this is just the beginning: as we noted yesterday, according to the president's own budget total US debt is now expected to surpasses the greatest and final debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion just around September, and likely sooner with the addition of the $160 billion in additional debt needed to fund the extension of the Bush temporary yet perpetual tax cut through the end of 2012. So while we know that total debt to GDP is already over 100% and unlikely to ever decline back to double digits, thus putting into question the marginal utility of debt to generate further economic growth, another just as important question is what is the incremental utility of tax revenue relative to debt issuance, i.e., is America now issuing more debt than it is collecting from tax revenues: a step which would further cement its status as a banana debt republic. The chart below should provide some comfort in that regard. In fiscal 2012, starting October 31 through today, the US has collected $677.6 billion in withholdings taxes, while issuing $601 billion in debt over the same period of time. In other words, for now at least tax revenues are running 12% above debt issuance. Alas, considering that according to the president's own budget there is another $1 trillion in debt issuance over the next seven and a half months, we have a very distinct feeling the red line will cross the blue line yet again, and quite soon at that. Naturally, a logical question arises: why not just do away with taxes entirely and have all US capital needs be debt funded? After all, all that "saved or created" tax money would be used to buy bonds or better yet, iBonds, or something just as silly. And the USD would never, ever, lose its status as reserve currency...
And so we are back to the same fiscal feudalism that Germany demanded, and the Greece refused weeks ago. We have been pondering the ECB bond swap 'news-story' and the market's reaction to this with incredulity. Our earlier discussion of the deal (here and here) pointed to the problems and now Peter Tchir explains how this debt swap is actually a step towards a Greek default (thanks to the removal of the CAC-encumberance within the ECB). It is also a large step towards colonization as the FT notes that the bailout terms will contain "unprecedented controls" on Athens. It is our earlier comments on the unintended consequence of this ECB action - that of explicitly subordinating all other sovereign bondholders in Europe, and that this would likely raise the very large specter of legal action by other Greek bondholders arguing the ECB has received unfair treatment - that the FT also brings to investors' attention (which is seemingly being ignored on the eve of OPEX). Whichever way you look at this - it is not good for Greece and could have significantly negative implications for the rest of the European sovereign bond market just as investors are starting to dip a toe in the cool risk water once again.
“Whoever controls the volume of money in our country is absolute master of all industry and commerce…and when you realize that the entire system is very easily controlled, one way or another, by few powerful men at the top, you will not have to be told how periods of inflation and depression originate.” – President James Garfield, 2 weeks before his assassination.
While next to impossible, now may be a good time to ignore the constant barrage of meaningless noise and flashing red headlines, which not only are contradictory but prove that Europe is literally making it all up as it goes along. Today is a great case in point of a tangential detour which does nothing to change the reality that Germany no longer wants Greece in the Eurozone (remember, oh, yesterday), and that the ECB is merely playing possum with PSI creditors who will block the deal with even greater vigor than before (anyone recall the FT story about the PSI deal being on the verge of collapse not due to the ECB but due to private creditors?) as the ECB's even bigger subordination will simply make the amount of hold outs even greater. So while algos take the required 12-48 hours to figure out what just happened today, here is SocGen's Suki Mann stepping back from the endless daily din, and summarizing what is really happening in Europe.