The Swiss National Bank (SNB), which supposedly guarantees price stability in Switzerland, currently holds about 1,040 tons of gold reserves after gradually selling off at least 1,550 tons and now members of the Swiss People's Party, the far-right Swiss Democrats and the Lega dei Ticinesi movement, is confident a nationwide vote will be called (after they gathered 106,000 signatures) on stopping the sale of gold reserves held by the SNB. It also wants gold bars stored in the US to be returned. As Swiss Info reports, the People's Party leader Luzi Stamm comments, "Gold reserves guarantee the stability of the Swiss franc. They ensure that that private savings, salaries, pension keep their value," warning that gold must not be the object of speculation for the SNB or for politicians and demanding the SNB keep a minimum of 20 per cent of its assets in gold, twice the current level. In addition, they want to force the government to disclose where the gold reserves are stored, since "it is only in safe hands if it is kept in Switzerland."
There are two articles of faith in the central-bank religion: 1) We can keep interest rates near-zero for as long as we deem necessary, and 2) We can suppress inflation at will, too. The question is: can they do both at the same time for as long as they wish? If either interest rates or inflation (and they are correlated) start rising, the central banks' claims of control evaporate. There is an interesting paradox at work here: Since there is an unlimited buyer for low-yield bonds (the central banks), there is no market pressure for higher rates. Why raise yields when you can sell trillions of dollars of low-yield bonds to the Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan, etc.? By buying the new debt with newly created money, the central banks have marginalized the market's ability to transparently price risk and credit: the bond market has in effect been captured by the central banks, who can counter any reduction in demand with newly created money. But the central banks don't control where all this newly issued money goes. If it goes into the real economy, it triggers inflation; if it goes into assets, it inflates asset bubbles. Inflation and bubbles have consequences.
More details are appearing on the latest and greatest plan in the shambles to solve Cyprus' (and Europe's unsolvable) problem. It appears the European Group is implicitly declaring economic war on the 'wealthy' depositors (we noted here non-domestic depositors dominated recent inflows) as these headlines hit:
*EURO AREA SAID TO WEIGH CLOSING CYPRUS POPULAR, BANK OF CYPRUS
*EURO AREA SAID TO WEIGH GOOD BANK, BAD BANK FOR CYPRUS BANKS
*UNINSURED DEPOSITS COULD GO TO CYPRUS BAD BANK, FACE 40% LOSS
We assume followed rapidly by some eurozone law-breaking capital controls to stop the remaining 60% flooding out instantaneously...
Expected to last 60-90 minutes - if Monday's call is any guide - it seems the European Group's teleconference to discuss Cyprus has pressured stocks and WTI (seemingly the new anchor risk asset) to the lows of the session and VIX to highs...
Just as we predicted, it seems Cyprus is rapidly escalating down the path we feared. The latest step:
Cyprus Popular Bank announces restrictions on ATM withdrawal to EUR 260 per customer per day
Bt on the bright side, for the next few hours, they still have liquidity... We just hope the steps we outlined get stalled before this really escalates.
It appears, based on government officials, that things are going a little critical in Cyprus. Following rumors of the closure (restructuring) of good/bad bank assets for Cyprus Popular Bank, we get this news:
*CYPRUS HASN'T HAD ANY FURTHER NEWS FROM RUSSIA: OFFICIAL
*CYPRUS POPULAR BANK HAS "FEW HOURS OF LIQUIDITY LEFT": OFFICIAL
For a while there, one might have been forgiven for believing that all was going to be well; that the recovery was V-shaped and the new-normal was nothing but the old-normal and Goldilocks would reappear. It appears, however, that the central bank lipstick slapped on the deflationary pig of the over-levered global economy is starting to wear off. As the following 4 charts show, things are not as 'recovering' as many hoped (and still hope).
For a few days, the people of Cyprus were calm, quietly and orderly accepting the unreality of the levy being imposed upon them - incredulous that it was even possible. As we reach the 4th day of bank closures, amid rolling rumors and ECB threats, it appears the people have reached a tipping point as this series of images from Cyprus ATM lines indicates - the bank-jog has arrived. When will it become a full blown sprint?
Following the dismal PMIs this morning, most EU equity indices were declining. From around the open of US equity markets, EURUSD began to levitate as the 'bad' news hit Cyprus Popular Bank being 'restructured', no deal with Russia, and ATM lines mounting. Of course, the machines interpreted EURUSD's rise as a positive and European equities (and US equities) got a lift into the EU close. We suspect, in reality, this EUR strength is very different and given the surge in demand for Swiss 2Y rates (now at 2 month lows), EUR-USD basis swaps, and European sovereign bond markets in the last hour, it would appear this is very much repatriation flows and not 'we love the Euro' flows. European stocks did end the day lower though - catching down to credit's earlier week weakness.
Refuting earlier comments from the regulator that Cyprus Popular Bank would not be shuttered, CYBC is reporting (following the failure to sell it to the Russians) that the bank is to be shut down, split into good-bank-bad-bank, and that deposits under EUR100,000 will be protected.
- *CYPRUS POPULAR BANK TO BE SHUT DOWN, STATE-RUN CYBC SAYS
- *CYPRUS POPULAR BANK TO BE SPLIT IN GOOD, BAD BANKS: CYBC
- *CYPRUS POPULAR BANK ASSET PROCEEDS TO BE RETURNED TO DEPOSITORS
- *CYPRUS POPULAR BANK DEPOSITS OF LESS THAN EU100,000 GUARANTEED
Of course, we await the re-refutation but for now it seems the latest news trumps the regulators 'lies' earlier.
Remember that infamous business school in Illinois known for its farcical and utterly ridiculous hypothesis that the market is efficient? We disagree. Exhibit A: nationalized mortgage lender, Fannie Mae, and no news.
Given the public unrest of the last few days, it would appear that the Cypriot government, having tried and failed with Plan A (wealth tax versions 1 and 2) and Plan B (beg the Russians directly), they have decided to go with Plan C (Collateralized Cypriot Obligations). The current proposal, ekathimerini reports, to theoretically be voted on in a few hours (about to be in cabinet), is that Cyprus will form an investment fund to raise the capital needed to payoff their EU overlords. This fund will be collateralized by state assets, possibly including natural gas revenues, church property, and social security fund reserves. Though some form of deposit tax was 'apparently' not ruled out, it seems the next last best hope for Cyprus is begging the Russians to extend a loan and begging the world to fund more debt from a nation about to see huge capital outflows. The approach is, it appears, a 'solidarity' approach - rather than tax the current wealth of depositors (and hand it over to Troika), 'tax' the future possibility of wealth creation and sell that to the next greater fool sovereign wealth fund (or will the ECB decide that these CCOs are acceptable collateral?)
Overly optimistic expectations are commonplace in non-recessionary periods, and confirming what we discussed here, estimates have continued to decline over the past few quarters while markets have pushed higher. In fact, as JPMorgan notes, and despite the protestations of the commission-takers, S&P 500 EPS are now forecast to be less than they were at the previous peak in 2007/2008. Of course, the multiple expansion argument comes to save them but we note that given where we are in the profit cycle with margins at their current levels (as discussed here) the majority of earnings growth moving forward must come from revenues rather than margin expansion. Revenues for the S&P 500 have historically grown in-line with nominal global GDP, so let's hope that FDX, CAT, and ORCL are all one-offs. So given indices are at all-time highs but EPS expectations are well below the previous peak - we wonder just how this market is deemed 'cheap'?