Yesterday we dedicated a quick post to the glaringly obvious - the complete decimation-cum-implosion of the Greek economy. Today we learn that the obvious apparently continues, following a Reuters report that according to an Italian source, Q4 GDP declined more than the 0.2% drop in Q3, and that there was no improvement in Q1 of 2012. In other words, Italy's economy is now contracting at an at least 0.3% annualized run rate. More as we get it, but it's not like any details will make the news any less bulllish, because this is obviously great news: the accelerating recession is far better than the "priced in" apocalyptic depression that the market was expecting. In other words, by simple inversion worse than expected is better than unexpected. Or something.
Think the ECB announcement to do undergo a pseudo OSI impairment is a done deal? Not so fast - Germany may yet throw a wrench in there. According to Bloomberg, next week German lawmakers will conduct three votes on Greece among which:
- the €130 billion Greek bailout package... Wasn't it €145 billion by now?
- the empowerment of the EFSF to guarantee Greek government bonds held by the ECB
- the guarantee of Greek government bonds held by private sector after the debt swap
So while according to "sources" the ECB has already reached an "agreement in principle" to provide Official Sector debt relief, Germany may once again come out of left field with a blocking veto after German taxpayers realize that once again the ECB is throwing money down the drain on its Greek bond holdings, because as pointed out earlier, someone sure is taking a loss on those very same Greek bonds, no matter how convoluted the ECB-EFSF non-arms length and incestuous relationship.
European stocks advanced today following reports that the ECB is said to be willing to exchange Greek bonds with EFSF. In addition to that, although a vast majority of officials remain adamant that no haircuts will be applied, WSJ report indicated that the concession by the ECB will contribute to the Greek debt reduction, and the concession depends on the overall debt agreement being set. However it remains to be seen what effect using the EFSF for such spurious purposes will have on the demand for EFSF issued bonds in the future. Still, the renewed sense of optimism that debt swap talks are nearing an end depressed investor appetite for fixed income securities, which in turn resulted in further tightening of peripheral bond yield spreads. The stand out was the 10-year Spanish bond, amid a syndicated issuance from the Treasury. Going forward, Greek PM is scheduled to meet party leaders on a loan deal at 1300GMT, while other reports have suggested that the Troika is keen on meeting Greek parties individually. There is little in terms of macro-economic data releases today, however the US Treasury is due to sell USD 24bln in 10y notes.
Setting a precedent of official sector losses would raise huge questions over whether Portugal and Ireland will request similar treatment. However there are now no easy options. The current course of a second Greek bailout could just as easily have knock-on effects in the form of a second round of taxpayer-backed rescues. We have always argued strongly against taxpayers taking losses but, unfortunately, this is one of the few plausible options we’re now left with.
While hardly new to anyone who actually has been reading between the lines, and/or Zero Hedge, in the past few months, the Greek endspiel is here, and as a note by Goldman's Themistoklis Fiotakis overnight, the Greek timeline, or what little is left of it, "allows little room for error." Furthermore, "Due to the low NPV of the restructuring offer it is likely that part of this investor segment may be tempted to hold out (particularly owners of front-end bonds). How the holdouts are treated will be key. Paying them out in full would probably send a bullish signal to markets, yet it would be contradictory to prior policy statements about the desirability of high participation both in practical terms as well as in terms of signalling. On the other hand, forcing holdouts into the Greek PSI in an involuntary way would likely cause broad market volatility in the near term, but could be digested in the long run as long as it happens in a non-disruptive way (as we have written in the past, avoiding triggering CDS or giving the ECB’s holdings preferential treatment following an involuntary credit event could cause much deeper and longer-lived market damage)." Once again - nothing new, and merely proof that despite headlines from the IIF, the true news will come in 2-3 weeks when the exchange offer is formally closed, only for the world to find that 20-40% of bondholders have declined the deal and killed the transaction! But of course, by then the idiot market, which apparently has never opened a Restructuring 101 textbook will take the EURUSD to 1.5000, only for it to plunge to sub-parity after. More importantly, with Greek bonds set to define a 15 cent real cash recovery, one can see why absent the ECB's buying, Portugese bonds would be trading in their 30s: "Portugal will be crucial in determining the market’s view on the probability of default outside Greece... Given the significance of such a decision, markets will likely reflect concerns about the relevant risks ahead of time." Don't for a second assume Europe is fixed. The fun is only just beginning...
According to the WSJ, the “ECB is willing to forego profits on their Greek bonds”. That statement strikes me as one of the scariest things that a central banker could say (and there is some tough competition for that one). Forego profits? Here is the chart of a typical Greek bond over the past 2 years. The ECB started buying Greek bonds in May 2010, and stopped sometime in 2011. How do they possibly have “profits” to give up? They have “profits” because they live in an accrual accounting world. They buy bonds, don’t mark them, and accrue the interest. The accrued interest counts as “profit”. That is the carry trade. That is what everyone is so excited about for the banks. Banks can buy bonds, not mark them, and book the interest accrual (and payments) as profit. The problem with accrual accounting is when a sale is forced. Whatever the reason for the sale (in this case, a restructuring/default by Greece), the accrual accounting game is over and you have real profit or loss. The “profit” is the total proceeds received for the sale, versus total purchase price, plus any coupon payments received, minus costs of carrying the position. Some entity is taking the real world loss.
- Greek Premier to Seek Bailout Consensus Amid Political Quarrels (Bloomberg)
- Merkel makes case for painful reform (FT)
- Bernanke Cites Risks to Progress of Recovery (WSJ)
- Proposed settlement with banks over foreclosure practices dealt a setback (WaPo)
- Merkel Approval in Germany Climbs to Highest Level Since 2009 Re-Election (Bloomberg)
- Francois Hollande will spark next euro crisis (MarketWatch)
- China’s Central Bank Pledges Support for Housing Market (Bloomberg)
- Italy Pushes for Europe Growth Policy (Bloomberg)
- Santorum bounces back in Republican race (FT)
- China 'Big Four' Banks Issued CNY320 Billion New Yuan Loans In Jan (WSJ)
- Gasoline and diesel prices raised (China Daily)
Just when we thought the US could not sink any further in its usurpation of civil rights, here comes the FBI to advise all those who tend to think that the broken economic model of the past century is the cause for the global insolvency, that wanton fiat diluation and reckless debt issuance does not 'fix' the problem of uber-leverage, and that the gold standard is the proper way to return to monetary stability, will henceforth be considered extremists. From Reuters: "Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday. These extremists, sometimes known as "sovereign citizens," believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference." And the most epic line ever written: "The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard." So... the US did not go bankrupt by going off the gold standard? But why did the US "go bankrupt" then? We are confused.
Perhaps after today's budget miss in the Hellenic Republic it is time that the focus shift from the reality of a pending #fail for the voluntary PSI (for all the reasons we have at length discussed no matter how many headlines the markets tries to rally on) to a post-restructuring real economy reality in Greece. Whether self-imposed by devaluation or Teutonia-imposed by Troika, austerity is in the cards but there is a much more deep-seated problem at the heart of Greece - a total and utter lack of innovation and entrepreneurship. As Goldman's Hugo Scott-Gall focuses on in his fortnightly report this week "the competitive advantage of innovation is one that developed markets need to keep" and in the case of European nations that desperately need to find a way to grow somehow, it is critical. Unfortunately, Greece, center of the universe for a post-restructuring phoenix-like recovery expectation, scores 0 for 3 on the innovation front. Lowest overall patent grant rate, lowest corporate birth rate, and highest cost of starting a new business hardly endear them to direct investment or an entrepreneurial dynamism that could 'slow' capital flight. Perhaps it is this reality, one of a Greek people perpetually circling the drain of dis-innovation and un-growth, that Merkel is starting to feel comfortable 'letting go of'. Maybe some navel-gazing after seeing these three doom-ridden charts will force a political class to open the economy a little more, cut the red tape (after a drastic restructuring of course) and shift focus from Ouzo, Olive Oil, and The Olympics. We also suggest the rest of the PIIGS not be too quick to comment 'we are not Greece' when they see where they rank for innovation.
The problem with printing money and promising to do so for years ahead of time is that the negative consequences of inflation only happen after a delay. As a result, it's difficult to know if a policy has gone too far until years down the road at times. Unfortunately, if confidence in the dollar is lost, the consequences cannot be easily reversed. One problem for the Fed itself is that it holds long-term securities that will lose value if rates rise. The federal government faces an even more serious problem when interest rates rise, as higher rates on its debt mean greater interest payments to service. Due to this federal-government debt burden, the Fed has an incentive to keep rates low, even if the long-term result is higher inflation. However, for now the Fed's statement suggests it sees inflation as "subdued," so it's putting those concerns aside for now.
While hardly surprising to anyone who actually paid attention over the past two months to events in Greece (instead of just reacting to headlines) where among those on strike were the very tax collectors tasked with "fixing the problem", we now get a first glimpse of the sheer collapse in the Greek economy, which also confirms why Germany is now dying for Greece to pull its own Eurozone plug (predicated by a naive belief that Greece is firewalled as was discussed before. As a reminder Hank Paulson thought that Lehman, too, was firewalled on September 15, 2008). And what a collapse it is: according to just released data from Kathimerini, budget revenues lagged projections by €1 billion in the very first month of the year. "Revenues posted a 7 percent decline compared with January 2011, while the target that had been set in the budget provided for an 8.9 percent annual increase. Worse still, value-added tax receipts posted an 18.7 percent decrease last month from January 2011 as the economy continues to tread the path of recession: VAT receipts only amounted to 1.85 billion euros in January compared to 2.29 billion in the same month last year." This it the point where any referee would throw in the towel. But no: for Europe's bankers there apparently are still some leftover organs in the corpse worth harvesting. Unfortunately, at this point we fail to see how this setup ends with anything but civil war, as the April elections will merely once again reinstate the existing bloodsucking regime. We hope we are wrong.
Somehow, once again, we managed to rally EURUSD (to 2 month highs) on the back of Greek deal hopes (even as Merkel stomped her feet, Hollande flexed his muscles, and Dallara/Venizelos had nothing to report) which maintained a modicum of support for equity markets (which also got a little late day push from another record-breaking Consumer-Credit expansion) as cash S&P made it to early July 2011 levels. Unfortunately, with Utilities leading S&P sectors, credit diverging wider in investment grade and high-yield, Copper underperforming (post overnight China reality checks), WTI's exuberance (relative to Brent at least), and implied correlation diverging bearishly from VIX, we can't say this was a wholly supported rally. Broad risk-asset proxy (CONTEXT) did stay in sync with ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) after the European close as Treasuries held up near the day's high yields and FX carry stabilized. Financials lagged with the majors actually underperforming for a change as we note the late-day surge in ES to new highs saw significant average trade size suggesting more professionals covering longs into strength rather than adding at the top. Volume was above yesterday's dismal performance but remained below the year's average so far. Credit and equity vol are back in line and credit has now been flat and underperforming for the last three days (even as HY issuance has been high).
It has been rumored before, but allegedly the potential for the ECB to transfer bonds to EFSF is back on the table. The ECB would transfer the bonds at cost to the EFSF (net of interest earned?) and the EFSF would participate in the PSI. There are some positives in this. Greece would get additional savings and that ECB bonds are nto subordinating other bond holders. There are also some definitive negatives. If the Troika will just use the EFSF as a way to bury losses they don’t want to take directly, no one will lend to EFSF on a leveraged basis. Furthermore, this could highlight the ECB's unwillingness to print to meet its shortfall and impact sentiment that way. It will get very interesting if some countries actually come out against this. If the EFSF was going to use guarantees to issue debt and then buy bonds of the PIIGS, that was one thing. Now they are going to borrow money so they can hand it to the ECB. That is different and may annoy some of the more prudent countries