On Thursday night, after it became clear that JPM has lost at least $2 billion on what is most likely an IG9 Index skew (Index less Intrinsics) trade gone horribly wrong, we first predicted (and promptly were piggybacked on by other various financial blogs) that based on various factors, there is about $3 billion more in the pain trade coming in JPM's general direction, once IG9 blows out to catch up to a fair value not supported by JPM(artingale's) infinitely backstopped prop desk. Sure enough, by closing on Friday, IG9 (and the entire IG curve), had blown out wider, by a whopping 10 basis points: one of the biggest intraday moves in nearly a year. In P&L terms, by close of Friday, all else equal, JPM had lost another $2-3 billion on the same trade it had lost over $2 billion since the beginning of April. We expect to hear confirmation of this shortly. Which however brings another question: has JPM closed out its losing trade, or is the entire move in the index (and to a far less extent in the intrinsics) due to hedge funds who have piggybacked on the "crush JPM" trade? The truth is we don't know, and until we get the latest weekly DTCC data on CDS notional outstanding we won't know. However, our gut feeling is that it would have been virtually impossible for JPM to lift every single offer in unwinding a $100+ billion notional position without sending the entire IG curve multiples wider. Which is why keep a close eye on the IG9 10 Year skew - this is where, as ZH first noted, the action is. If the skew soars, it is likely that the runaway train will keep going and going, until JPM issues a formal announcement that the firm is fully out of the trade, together with a final tally of its losses, which will probably be double the reported loss as of Thursday. At which point IG9/18 will see an epic ripfest as those short risk will scramble to cover.
Now that Europe is all the rage again, below we again summarize the key Euro-centric events through the end of the month, as well as all the sovereign bond auctions to look forward to (we use the term loosely). Finally, the squid summarizes the key events in the past week as well as the expected global catalysts in the next several days. Somehow we get the impression it will be all about the unexpected developments in the next 168 hours, especially with Spain, Italy, France and Germany coming front and center with a boatload of bond issuance as soon as 9 hours from now...
Anyone who worked in finance in the decade before Glass-Steagall was repealed knows that prior to Gramm-Leach-Bliley the megabanks just took their hyper-leveraged activities offshore (primarily to London where no such regulations existed). The big problem (at least in my mind) with Glass-Steagall is that it didn’t prevent the financial-industrial complex from gaining the power to loophole and lobby Glass-Steagall out of existence, and incorporate a new regime of hyper-leverage, convoluted shadow banking intermediation, and a multi-quadrillion-dollar derivatives web (and more importantly a taxpayer-funded safety net for when it all goes wrong: heads I win, tails you lose). I fear that the only answer to the dastardly combination of hyper-risk and huge bailouts is to let the junkies eat dirt the next time the system comes crashing down. You can’t keep bailing out hyper-fragile systems and expect them to just fix themselves. The answer to stupidity is not the moral hazard of bailouts, it is the educational lesson of failure. You screw up, you take more care next time. If you’re bailed out, you just don’t care. Corzine affirms it; Iksil affrims it; Adoboli affirms it. And there will be more names. Which chump is next?
In a development that would make Dostoevsky turn in his grave, we learn that the first three casualites of Fail-Whalegate have been identified.
Today's Meet The Press PR damage control campaign orchestrated on behalf of Jamie Dimon by the fawning press was just another attempt at redirection, in which a faux contrite Jamie Dimon promises that as a result of being '100% wrong' about his prior "Tempest in a Teapot" description of the Bruno Iksil debacle, he has learned his lesson, and in tried and true American fashion deserves a second chance. The rest was filler. What was not said is that the entire business model of the modern US banking edifice, where due to the Net Interest Margin limitations imposed by ZIRP, is one of prop trading as being a glorified hedge fund is the only way the banks can generate a rate of return above their cost of capital. What was also not said was the glaring lies by Blythe Masters from a month ago who swore up and down to CNBC that JPM does not engage in prop trading. What was also not said is that contrary to "conventional wisdom" where a few prop traders have been sacked (most likely due to not taking enough risk) prop trading is alive and well across Wall Street, even if it has been largely rebranded as 'flow trading' - just as the high freaks are scrambling to come up with a new name for HFT because that will make all the difference. What was also not said, nor discussed, is why anyone would trust or invest in these money center banks when their balance sheets are so opaque, even their CEOs flip flop within a month of what is really happening, with accounting standards so poor, that nobody can figure out what they are investing in, and why Mark-to-Market is still halted (Aren't banks finally quote unquote healthy?). Finally, the most important thing not said, was Glass-Steagall, the one law whose overturning allowed the commingling of deposits and hedge fund activity courtesy of Gramm-Leach-Bliley, hilarious called the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. If America is to have even a remote hope of returning to normalcy, Glass-Steagall has to be reinstated. Which is why nobody brought it up on MTP: neither the anchor who is accountable to an organization which needs the status quo for advertising revenues, nor the hungry for TV exposure senator, nor the DCF-expert access journalist. Nobody.
Here is the 3-point plan:
- Renounce all debts denominated in the euro, i.e. a 100% writedown.
- Accept the U.S. dollar as the national currency of Greece.
- Engage in a transparent national dialog and reach a consensus about taxation and the role of the state in the Greek society and economy.
We might add a fourth point: renounce scams and kicking problems down the road rather than addressing them directly, sweeping dysfunction under the rug, etc.
Another weekend, another stunner in local European elections, this time as Merkel's CDU gets a record low vote in the state elections of Germany's most populous state North Rhein-Westphalia. According to a preliminary projections by ARD, the breakdown is as follows:
- CDU: 26%
- Pirates: 7.5%
- FDP: 8.5%
Good news: no neo-nazis. Bad news: record defeat for the Chancellor. And the bext news for twitter fans: Angela_D_Merkel ist aus. Hannelore Kraft: in.
- How do you define market risk?
- Do you take fixed price positions?
- Are you exclusively a hedger or do you “optimize” your assets?
- Do you have a risk policy?
- How do you monitor trading/hedging limits?.
As suspected, yesterday's report that the Troika may be caving on Greece appears more and more as a red-herring trial balloon, leaked by the Greek press without substantiation, and which sought to lighten the tension ahead of a trading week which is already looking rather askew. Because not even a full 24 hours later, Germany fires right back with an article in the Spiegel which not only anticipates the Grexit, but what happens the day after: namely that Greece would receive further aid from the EFSF if it exited the euro. It also notes that the EFSF aid to service bonds would continue. Greece would continue to get aid as EU member as every other member state. While it is unclear if this article is in response to the WiWo piece we noted yesterday which tried to quantify the costs of a Greek impact, and which has now ominously been picked up by Die Welt, in which Germany was finally starting to get worried about the hundreds of billions in sunk costs should Greece exit, the punchline here, needless to say, is not only the contemplation of a Greek exit but that Greece would be "all taken care of" even as the newly reintroduced Drachma lost a few hundred percent in value every day as Greece stormed its way back to FX competitiveness. Spiegel's punchline: "This is to the consequences of a possible €-egress will be mitigated." Hopefully the market agrees.
And so it all begins anew: "The so-called troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank is willing to make six important changes to Greece’s financial aid agreement if a pro-European government is formed in the country, Real News said. The Troika is willing to extend by one year to end 2015 the time for Greece to cut its budget deficit as well as to proceed with a restructuring of loans, the Athens-based newspaper reported in its Sunday edition preleased today, citing “well informed” sources at the European Commission."
Europe is heading for a showdown and in a number of places; that much can be acknowledged with certainty. The first, and perhaps the most important, is the stand-off between France and the European Commission. The EU budgetary office is demanding that France reduce its deficit to 3.00% for 2012 while the projection is for 4.50% so that the Commission is threatening France with large fines. Mr. Hollande ran his campaign upon a reduction in the retirement age, more generous pensions, shorter work hours and more governmental spending so that the budgetary miss is likely to be larger than forecast; somewhere around 5.2% in my estimation. France then finds itself, one way or another, with a larger budgetary deficit and if the EU then imposes fines and sanctions Paris may thumb its nose at Berlin/Brussels in what could be a rather nasty affair with unknown consequences. Mrs. Merkel in one corner and Mr. Hollande in another slugging it out will not make for harmonious relations. Then there are the issues of Greece and Spain and the Socialist reaction is bound to be very different than the Austerity imposition as demanded by Germany. Jawohl!
That is the only way to express this author’s utter bewilderment that former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is still given an outlet to speak his mind. Actually, I am surprised Mr. Greenspan has the audacity to show his face, let alone speak, in public after the economic destruction he is responsible for. It was because of Greenspan, of course, that the world economy is still muddling its way along with painfully high unemployment. His decision to prop up the stock market with money printing under any and every threat of a downtick in growth, also known as the Greenspan Put, created an environment of easy credit, reckless spending, and along with the federal government’s initiatives to encourage home ownership, the foundation from which a housing bubble could emerge. It was moral hazard bolstering on a massive scale. Wall Street quickly learned (and the lesson sadly continues today) that the Federal Reserve stands ready to inflate should the Dow begin to plummet by any significant amount. Following his departure from the chairmanship and bursting of the housing bubble, Greenspan quickly took to the press and denied any responsibility for financial crisis which was a result in due part to the crash in home prices.
Hedged natural gas contracts have protected many producers from the full wrath of today's rock-bottom prices. They've been able to sell their production at relatively high prices... even while the spot price collapsed. But... for a lot of producers, these higher-priced hedges are about to expire. Encana, Canada's largest natural gas company, is a good example. The company had prudently hedged lots of the gas it sold over the last six months. This means it was still realizing $4 or $5 per MMBtu on its sales. Now, those hedges are expiring... and the new hedges are at much lower prices. Encana's cash flow and its economically recoverable reserves are going to plunge.
As Nassim Taleb described in The Black Swan these kinds of trades — betting large amounts for small frequent profits — is extremely fragile because eventually (and probably sooner in the real world than in a model) losses will happen (and of course if you are betting big, losses will be big). If you are running your business on the basis of leverage, this is especially dangerous, because facing a margin call or a downgrade you may be left in a fire sale to raise collateral. This fragile business model is in fact descended from the Martingale roulette betting system. Martingale is the perfect example of the failure of theory, because in theory, Martingale is a system of guaranteed profit, which I think is probably what makes these kinds of practices so attractive to the arbitrageurs of Wall Street (and of course Wall Street often selects for this by recruiting and promoting the most wild-eyed and risk-hungry). Martingale works by betting, and then doubling your bet until you win. This — in theory, and given enough capital — delivers a profit of your initial stake every time. Historically, the problem has been that bettors run out of capital eventually, simply because they don’t have an infinite stock (of course, thanks to Ben Bernanke, that is no longer a problem). The key feature of this system— and the attribute which many institutions have copied — is that it delivers frequent small-to-moderate profits, and occasional huge losses (when the bettor runs out of money).