With the second version of the ECB's enhanced LTRO (back-door QE) starting tomorrow, there has been a great deal of speculation on what the take-up will be, what banks will do with the funds they receive, and more importantly how will this effect global asset markets. SocGen provides a comprehensive top-down analysis of the drivers of LTRO demand, the likely uses of those funds, and estimates how much of this will be used to finance the carry trade (placebo or no placebo). Italian (25%) and Spanish (20%) banks are unsurprisingly at the forefront in their take-up of ECB liquidity (likely undertaking the M.A.D. reach-around carry trade ) and have been since long before the first LTRO. On the other side, German banks have dramatically reduced their collective share of ECB liquidity from 30% to only 6%. SocGen skews their detailed forecast to EUR300-400bn, disappointing relative to the near EUR500bn consensus - and so likely modestly bad news for risk assets. Furthermore, they expect around EUR116bn of this to be used for carry trade 'revenue' production which will however lead to only a 0.6% improvement in sectoral equity levels (though some banks will benefit more than others), as they discuss the misunderstanding of LTRO-to-ECB-deposit facility rotation. We, however, remind readers that collateralized (and self-subordinating) debt is not a substitute for capital and if the ECB adamantly defines this as the last enhanced LTRO (until the next one of course) then European banks face an uphill battle without that crutch - whether or not they even have collateral to post. Its further important to note that LTRO 2 cannot be wholly disentangled from the March 1-2 EU Summit event risk and we fear expectations, priced into markets, are a little excessive. We suspect this will not be a Goldilocks 'just right' moment.
In the U.S. we now have the perfection of cloaked crony capitalism: corporate cartels use their vast concentrations of capital and revenue to buy the political leverage needed to write regulations specifically designed to eliminate competition. Recall that the most profitable business model is a monopoly or cartel protected from competition by the coercive Central State. Imposing complex regulations on small business competitors effectively cripples an entire class competitors, but does so in "stealth mode"--after all, more regulations are a "good thing" (especially to credulous Liberals) which "protect the public" (and every politico loves claiming his/her new raft of regulations will "protect the public.") This masks the key dynamic of crony capitalism: gaming the government is the most profitable business model. Where else can you "invest" a few hundred thousand dollars (to buy political "access" and lobbying) and "earn" a return in the millions of dollars, and eliminate potential competitors, too? No other "investment" even comes close.
Gaming out the impact of this week's LTRO2 demand on global risk assets is complicated by the ability of banks to mobilize collateral (how much can they pledge to the ECB and how much of that will be 'optimal' given the implicit subordination of senior unsecured debt holders), the use of those funds (carry trade economics are considerably lower and refinancing needs remain high), and the market's expectations (just how much more back-door QE is priced into European - and for that matter - US asset prices). Goldman Sachs surveyed its clients and found a gaping divide between banks and investors with the latter expecting considerably more than the banks - it seems someone will be disappointed - investors hope for more and banks expect to do less.
As various German party heads and other flacks complete their prepared remarks over the second Greek bailout, we get closer to the actual bailout vote. Unlike on previous occasions, the atmosphere toward Greece this time around is far more hostile. Granted, a down vote will likely have the same impact on markets as Congress voting down the first TARP so is highly unlikely, but for those eager for political drama this is your webcast.
It was only logical that following this weekend's quote unquote surprise announcement by Juncker that a third Greek bailout is likely in the cards, that Angela Merkel would follow up during her much anticipated Bundestag speech today and tell fellow politicians that there is no guarantee that a Greek bailout will work. That was to be expected. That this announcement is somehow responsible for the market selling off, and the EURUSD being at the lows of the day, once again proves that the market is no longer a discounting mechanism, and merely reacts to headlines that could be anticipated by anyone who steps back from the blaring noise and flashing headlines for even just one minute.
A big reason for the dour mood overcast on the market this morning is the failure of G-20 to resolve latent funding issues, with the IMF demanding more money from Germany for a global firewall, and Germany demanding more money from everyone else. A way to summarize events is that in lieu of any credible collateral left (the bulk of it has and will be pledged with the ECB in its discount window, aka LTRO operations, to keep Italian bonds bid and thus perpetuate the fallacy that things are under control), the world is now running out of ideas how to even kick the can down the road. Which is not a good sign as much kicking remains with tens of trillions in debt rollover coming up in the next few years. Below is Art Cashin's summary of this weekend's disappointing G-20 weekend retreat in Cabo san Lucas, which enjoyed the scenery but did nothing to easy the confusion over who pays for what in the next few weeks.
With an economy of just $3.2Tn versus the United States $14.3Tn Germany is trying to prop up a Eurozone that is more than one trillion dollars bigger than America. They just do not have the resources for the task they are undertaking and I predict serious consequences, eventually, from their efforts. Germany is “best of class” and will be the last to go but they cannot evade the European recession in the end and I think it is only a matter of time and unfortunate decisions before the austerity demands made on so many will wind their way back home to those who made the demands. They used a timeline that was much too short for the job at hand and payment will eventually be forced upon them. They obviously get the joke where Eurobonds and other ploys of this nature average the economies of Europe and the standards of living over some period of time so that Germany, in the end, will suffer most as they have the furthest to fall. They have approached the G-20, China, the emerging market countries and all polite responses to the side; the results have been about zip. The Germans are running out of both time and money and Franz is squirming in the beer hall.
Following on his latest bash session of gold from the weekend, when Warren Buffett dedicated a substantial portion of his annual letter to shareholders for the now routine and perfectly expected gold blasting, the Octogenarian of Omaha revealed to his faithful personal scribe Becky Quick that of all banks, he would recommend Wells Fargo as the single best bank to own. Naturally, as was previously lampooned by William Banzai, Americans, even those paying a 15% tax rate, would "do absolutely nothing for Warren trading book" if they were to buy gold instead of pooling their cash into the ponzi. As for buying WFC vs. gold, the chart below will show why the world is increasingly taking any proclamations from the man whose net worth was bailed out by the government, with humor more than serious consideration.Presenting the past decade's return of Wells Fargo and of gold. No commentary necessary.
The “Placebo Effect” is fascinating. In a typical drug testing trial, one group of patients will receive the actual drug being tested, and a “control” group will be given an “inert” medicine (or “sugar pill”) that shouldn’t do anything for the patient, but the patient doesn’t know that. So much of what I find wrong about “economics” is that it masquerades as far more of a science than it actually is. It doesn’t have theories that can be “tested” in a real world, where 2 similar situations are treated differently to see which “treatment” works better. Each economy and each situation is so different that it is IMPOSSIBLE to determine why policies failed or what should have been done differently. It is possible to come up with reasonable ideas and theories of what could have been done or should have been done, but they are only theories. The systems are so complex that finding situations with similar starting conditions with similarly motivated entities involved is simply impossible to find. The fact that so much of our policy seems to be based on research into what should have been done in the Great Depression and what has been seen in Japan is frankly scary. There is no way to “know” how the Great Depression would have turned out with a different set of policies. We can make conjectures, but that is all they are – conjectures. The LTRO was designed to support the market, the market is up, so the LTRO must be working. That at least is the logic many investors are applying. They see the improvement in sovereign debt yields, the avalanche of “positive” (if unfounded) headlines, and the relentless march higher of the stock market. So the plan is working? Not so fast.
The IMF data on central bank demand in January showed that Sweden raised its gold reserves by 18.3 metric tons to 144 tons in January. The data on the International Monetary Fund’s website was gold bullish showing continued demand for gold by central banks internationally. Belarus added 5 tons to reserves, Kazakhstan raised reserves by 7.6 tons and Turkey increased gold reserves by 4.1 tons. They were two quite odd minor reductions in gold reserves. Mexico reduced bullion reserves by 0.1 ton and Tajikistan cut them by 0.3 ton, according to the IMF. However soon after the increase in Sweden’s gold reserves was reported by Bloomberg, Sweden’s central bank gold reserves contradicted the IMF data and denied that they had increased their reserves. Joanna Gerwin, acting head of communication for the Riksbank, told Bloomberg that Swedish gold reserves were unchanged at 125.7 metric tons in January. Officials at the IMF’s office in Paris said nobody in Europe was able to comment. Alistair Thomson, a spokesman for the IMF in Washington, didn’t immediately reply to a voicemail and e-mail from Bloomberg outside normal business hours. Interestingly, the Riksbank sold 36.6 tons under the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) from 2007-2009. An increase in reserves of 18.3 tonnes is exactly half of the amount sold and would mean that the Riksbank had bought back half of the gold sold from 2007 to 2009.
That the German vote to pass the second Greek bailout package would be problematic is an understatement. Even as German parliamentarians are expected to pass the latest (but certainly not last as the G-20 meeting over the weekend demonstrated) hurdle to fund the Greek rescue, new revelations out of Greece have come to light exposing the true degree of capital flight out of the country, spearheaded by none other than the country's own corrupt politicians. Kathimerini reports: "As a political outcry grew on Friday over the revelation that an MP had transferred 1 million euros out of the country in May when authorities were struggling to appease Greek citizens’ fears of the repercussions of a possible default on their savings, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament that a significant number of lawmakers had moved sums in excess of 100,000 euros out of the country. Earlier, addressing a cabinet meeting, Venizelos had told fellow ministers that there are several public figures among the Greeks who transferred a total of 16 billion euros abroad over the last two years. According to research conducted by the Finance Ministry’s information systems department, 9 percent of this money ended up in Swiss bank accounts." As such, it is obvious why German popular tabloid Bild has called for German lawmakers to reject the Greek bailout: at this point the farce is arguably too much for everyone, and the situation is playing out just as predicted here back in July. Merkel is due to address the Bundestag at 3 pm local time, or in just over an hour. Those curious about the blow by blow, can follow the developments out of Germany at the following live blog by Bild.
- Germany Crisis Role in Focus After G-20 Rebuff (Bloomberg)
- G20 to Europe: Show us the money (Reuters)
- Draghi’s Unlimited Loans Are No Panacea (Bloomberg)
- Geithner says Europe has lowered risks of "catastrophe" (Reuters)
- Gone in 22 Seconds (WSJ)
- Gillard beats Rudd to stay Australian PM (FT)
- Brazil Will Continue Reducing Interest Rates, Tombini Says (Bloomberg)
- China to Have ‘Soft Landing’ Soon: Zoellick (Bloomberg)
- China To Be Largest Economy Before 2030: World Bank (Reuters)
- Obama pressed to open emergency oil stocks (FT)
Overnight sentiment is significantly negative, with stocks, bond yields, risk currencies lower after G-20 over the weekend refused to increase IMF funding. The result is an end to the buoyant market sentiment of recent days which has seen the Dax down 1.2%, bund, UST yields lower, and US futures lower. As many had expected, the G-20 has rebuffed EU leaders' request for more assistance, which in turn has placed the onus on Germany to find a way to resolve its internal conflict vis-a-vis a Greek bailout, ironically as many believe that it is Germany who more than anyone wants Greece out. This happens as the Bundestag votes today on second aid package today; Merkel’s government must decide whether to back plans at this week’s summit to combine EFSF and ESM. In other news, tomorrow the ECB will call for bids for the second 3 Year LTRO tomorrow, with results announced on February 29. And with the ECB's deposit facility at €477 billion, it is rather clear that the banks will park the bulk of new proceeds with the ECB once again, where it will continue to be a negative carry trade, earning 0.25% at a cost of 1.00%. And somehow this is favorable for the European sovereign bond market, which continues to ignore the various layers of subordination it is now working under. We expect the market revulsion to this flaw to be violent when it comes, and will result in a rapid and sudden divergence between the various subordinated tranches of sovereign bonds.
The real world revolves around cash flow. Families across the land understand this basic concept. Cash flows in from wages, investments and these days from the government. Cash flows out for food, gasoline, utilities, cable, cell phones, real estate taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes, clothing, mortgage payments, car payments, insurance payments, medical bills, auto repairs, home repairs, appliances, electronic gadgets, education, alcohol (necessary in this economy) and a countless other everyday expenses. If the outflow exceeds the inflow a family may be able to fund the deficit with credit cards for awhile, but ultimately running a cash flow deficit will result in debt default and loss of your home and assets. Ask the millions of Americans that have experienced this exact outcome since 2008 if you believe this is only a theoretical exercise. The Federal government, Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks, regulatory agencies and commercial real estate debtors have colluded since 2008 to pretend cash flow doesn’t matter. Their plan has been to “extend and pretend”, praying for an economic recovery that would save them from their greedy and foolish risk taking during the 2003 – 2007 Caligula-like debauchery.
Debt default means huge losses for the Wall Street criminal banks. Of course the banksters will just demand another taxpayer bailout from the puppet politicians. This repeat scenario gives new meaning to the term shop until you drop. Extending and pretending can work for awhile as accounting obfuscation, rolling over bad debts, and praying for a revival of the glory days can put off the day of reckoning for a couple years. Ultimately it comes down to cash flow, whether you’re a household, retailer, developer, bank or government. America is running on empty and extending and pretending is coming to an end.