A simple enough question it would seem. As Jim Grant so eloquently begins his oratory (describing how the Fed operates in contrast to how it was meant to operate per its founders) at Ron Paul's Fed Lecture Series from earlier in the year: "If one reads the Federal Reserve Act, you will be struck by how little the 21st Century model resembles the projected central bank - as in fact the founders advocated for a De-Centralized system." Note the specific wording at the end of the Act: "...to establish more effective supervision of banking in the United States; AND for other purposes." It is the 'other purposes' that provide the jumping off point for everything that has come since...
Two months ago, as we were carefully reading the latest Goldman explanation of how the firm had completely missed something Zero Hedge predicted back in January, namely the record warm winter's impact on skewing seasonal adjustments for payroll data (which has since validated our day 1 of 2012 predication that 2012 will be a carbon-copy replica of 2011, and which has made the comedy value of another Goldman masterpiece, that of Jim O'Neill's idiotic "2012: Not a Repeat of 2010 or 2011" soar through the roof) we stumbled upon something we knew was about to get much, much more airplay: Goldman's quiet and out of place admission that what matters for a country's central bank is the flow of its purchases, not the stock (another massive economic misconception we have been trying to debunk since the beginning). Recall these words: "...we have found some evidence that at the very long end of the yield curve, where Operation Twist is concentrated, it may be not just the stock of securities held by the Fed but also the ongoing flow of purchases that matters for yields..." This is how we summarized this observation two months ago (pardon the all caps): "UNLESS THE FED IS ACTIVELY ENGAGING IN MONETIZATION AT EVERY GIVEN MOMENT, THE IMPACT FROM EASING DIMINISHES PROGRESSIVELY, ULTIMATELY APPROACHING ZERO AND SUBSEQUENTLY BECOMING NEGATIVE!"
"We are witnessing the biggest financial-market manipulation of all time. The authorities have intervened more and more, and thereby created this monster. They might change the rules when the game goes against their own interests. We are in a severe credit crunch. It starts when the weakest links in the system can't finance their activities. Then you have a flight to safety into Treasuries and German bunds, compounded by a quasi-shortage of good collateral. That's why bond yields have fallen so low. This isn't an inflationary environment but a deflationary one."
72 seconds of crystal-clear thought from English MEP Daniel Hannan as he rather poignantly questions European leaders on the results of last July's European Stress Tests (and the Spanish banks passing with flying colors). In one of the more colorful analogies of the European cataclysm, Hannan describes Europe's self-dealing bailouts as "a transfusion, taking blood from one arm and pumping it into the other arm" noting that unfortunately, there is also a hole in the tube. You simply don't solve a debt problem with more debt; as he concludes "the Euro is the problem not the solution".
"Stocks off just shy of 1%, which erases most of yesterday’s gains, which erased most of Monday’s losses. After tomorrow, will you be able to say that Thursday’s gains erased most of Wednesday’s losses, which erased most of Tuesday’s gains, which had erased most of Monday’s losses? With apathy running high and conviction low, that sounds just as reasonable as anything else."
As is well-known in the ratings world, sovereign downgrades never come alone: first the sovereign is cut, then sovereign-supported domestic banks (the sovereign is the threshold rating), then general financial companies like insurance firms and specialty fins. Such downgrades are particularly painful when they go through a major threshold such from A to B as they spring various collateral and margin calls into action. One thing we do know is that the last thing undercapitalized Spanish banks can afford now is even more margin calls, and even greater collateral haircuts. However, this is precisely what will happen for the following 3 banks tomorrow: Banco Popular Espanol, Banco Santander and BBVA, all of which are currently at the old sovereign rating of A3 and tomorrow will see their rating cut to Baa3, and we fully expect the other three Moody's rated banks: Caixa, Banco Financiero y de Ahorros and Sabadell to be cut anywhere between 1 and 3 more notches, sending them into junk territory. We can only hope that the ESM or whatever Spanish bank bailout scheme is operational tomorrow as suddenly all of the banks below will find themselves without any willing counterparties around the world.
While some have discussed the game-theoretic dilemma that Germany faces relative to the 'rest' of Europe, David Santschi of TrimTabs (Biderman's balder buddy) digs into the details of a potential solution (hard as it may be) as Europe's fatal flaw (the currency unionization - but not fiscal or banking union - of a group of nations with strong sovereign identities) becomes all too real. The imbalances are so great right now that the only solution David sees is to breakup the Euro-zone, and simply put the best way to achieve a break up would be for Germany to leave voluntarily - establishing a strong currency and in turn saving itself financially. While not minimizing this as a 'good' or 'easy' solution - many people would lose their livelihoods and many would lose a lot of money - it is the only practical solution that he sees (as Eurobonds, banking unions, and fiscal unions are simply impractical in terms of both effect and timeliness). Quoting W.C.Fields with regard the European press' and politicians' efforts towards investors: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit!", they correctly explain that Europe is a solvency problem and not a currency problem. In one of the sanest (and least hyperbolic) discussions of the reality in Europe, Bidermantschi note that it appears investors have finally wised up to the fact that "bailout loans are nothing but a shell game replacing old debt with new debt" and the heretical proposition that central banks perhaps cannot solve all the world's problems.
The most effective response for Spain would be to de-link sovereigns and their banks, following recent steady accumulation of sovereign debt by peripheral banks, in our view. Reducing the link between Spanish banks and the sovereign remains one of the key aspects for relieving pressure on Spain, whether this be by removing sovereign debt from balance sheets or ensuring sufficient capitalization to absorb losses. Unemployment out this morning at 24.4% shows the fragile state the economy is in, which is likely to keep pressure on Spanish yields. Against this backdrop the effect on the asset side of balance sheets is concerning, with expected weakness in non-core government bond prices coupled with a weak economy decreasing individuals' and corporates' ability to repay
It seems our warning of yesterday's perfect algo-driven retracement in Treasuries and stocks was spot on. The dead cat bounced just too perfectly for our liking and despite an early attempt to ramp markets on Dimon's testimony (which worked at first and then faded all the way into the close), broad risk assets led equities lower with a horrible close. It appears the 10Y auction was today's catalyst and it is clear from the charts that TSYs indeed turned lower (in yield) before equities woke up. The 1315 level (in September S&P 500 futures) was a stumbling point all day as decent sized blocks were dumped each time we moved above it until the market finally gave in and fell. WTI gave all its Dimon-spike gains back. Gold, Silver, and Copper wriggled along sideways (also giving back all the Dimon-Spike gains) but while the USD retraced higher into the close (-0.3% on the week now), Gold and Silver remain up around 1.5% on the week (with gold the outperformer on the day). VIX pushed dramatically higher to 24.5% (+2.3vols) and as stocks tumbled so equity correlation to risk-assets picked up (with notably stocks finding support as they converged with CONTEXT near the close). A last minute pop into the day-session close took us back to Thursday's close of last week but IG credit continues to point to lower risk appetites.
It was only a matter of time before the stoic Germans, long abused as the piggy bank pinatas of Europe's monetary experiment, said something. And after last week's confused Spanish campaign demanding that Merkel stop (what exactly - bailing out the Spanish banks? Funding Spanish current account deficits?), Germany has found its retort. As of a few hours ago, the German empire has decided to strike back using the #StoppESM hashtag on twitter. Are we about to have our first European twitter war? And while we know what the hashtag for Greece wil be (#StopTaxes), and Ireland (#StopSobriety), we have yet to figure out the appropriate terms for all the other insolvent European countries. There are many.
While we are aware of politicians' repeated vows about the uniqueness of the Greek case, we remain deeply skeptical. After all, hasn't it been a winning investment strategy to assume that the exact opposite of whatever Europe's elite says will become fact? The recently overheard and filmed conversation between Germany's and Portugal's finmins (http://t.co/iDA9HJPo) points in the direction of an imminent review of the Portuguese case and might be a harbinger of PSI, OSI etc à la Gréce. And why stop there? Why not relieve the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese etc. of their troublesome load? Wouldn't it be nice to pull a Greek and finally make it for those pesky Maastricht criteria? But regardless of one's view on the ongoing crisis, it makes perfect sense to go where no investor has gone before. We did the unthinkable, read the unreadable and made it back alive to tell the tale: we ploughed through all of the individual bond prospectuses of our favorite list of countries in peril and actually found a lot of useful information for the investor. Given that the sovereign bonds of the Eurozone used to be looked at as riskless assets, it is safe to assume that the exercise hasn't been done by a lot of investors on a regular basis. Judging by the difficulty to even obtain the information, both the interest of investors to obtain it and that of issuers and underwriters to provide it has been and remains extremely limited.
Yesterday, we did an update of the Greek bank jog, when noting that between €100-€500 million per day was being withdrawn from Greek banks based on Kathimerini reports. 24 hours later the jog has become a trot with the most recent estimate from Reuters now estimated at nearly double: "Combined daily deposit outflows from the major Greek banks have reached 500-800 million euros over the past few days, with the pace picking up as the election draws closer and rising noticeably on Tuesday, two bankers said." This is roughly $1 billion a day in the upper case, and a number that is approaching 0.5% of the entire documented €170 billion (now likely much less) deposit base.