While the market is ripping today on absolutely nothing (earlier we noted the rotation of muppet X with muppet Y - this changes nothing but who cares), BTPs are soaring, and confusion is prevalent, one thing is certain: we now know who is not buying Italian bonds. As IFR reports, "European banks are planning to dump more of the €300bn they own in Italian government debt, as they seek to pre-empt a worsening of the region’s debt crisis and avoid crippling writedowns – a move that could scupper the European Central Bank’s efforts to bring down soaring yields. Still reeling from heavy losses on money they lent to Greece, lenders are keen not to make the same mistake twice.Then, under the pressure of governments and a hope that credit default swaps would protect them against heavy losses, they held on until it was too late to sell." And for our European readers who may be wondering who the dumb money will be as this tsellnami unleashes, we have one word: you. "With the ECB providing a bid for Italian bonds that might not otherwise exist, board members at some of Europe’s largest bank say now is the time to accelerate disposals. Many are also reversing long-standing policies of buying into new Italian bond issues, denying Rome an important base of support." And there you have your explanation for today's action - yet another headfake to get the idiot money foaming at the mouths while the insolvent banks quietly dump everything, sending the EURUSD once again higher as EUR repatriation resumes, this time with feeling.
As a reminder, Germany has made it an explicit condition of its participation in the now irrelevant EFSF that the SMP program which is the only program currently functioning to provide secondary market support, be unwound shortly. The SMP currently has just under €200 billion in total bond holdings. Does anyone really think Germany will allow the monetization fund to increase by 150% before Merkel says something? We doubt it. But we know one party that would be delighted if the SMP were to monetize everything: PIMCO parent Allianz, which borrowed a line right out of BlackRock and told the market it is effectively an idiot, and does not reflect fundamentals. Via the FT: "Allianz insisted it was unworried by the political and financial turmoil in Italy as the insurer, Europe’s largest by market capitalisation, suffered from the impact of the eurozone crisis on its bond investments and corporate holdings. The German group – which considers Italy a “second home market”, according to Oliver Bäte, chief financial officer – has some of the biggest sovereign exposure to Italy of any non-Italian financial institution, with government bonds worth €25.6bn at the end of the third quarter, equal to more than 6 per cent of the company’s €413bn fixed income portfolio." Is it clear now why the EFSF as a €1 trillion vacuum cleaner idea came straight out of Allianz? And is it clear now who has the most to lose with the failure of the EFSF as a multifunctional Swiss Army bailout knife?
If the answer is still no, here is where Allianz channels BlackRock:
“We believe the market situation is completely overblown,” said Mr Bäte on Friday as Allianz announced an 80 per cent drop in third-quarter net income. “We have strong confidence in [Italy] . . that it will be able to recover its situation and regain stability.”
The lies continue:
Mr Bäte said Allianz was cutting exposure to government bonds “for those countries where we have a critical perspective . . . This does not apply to Italy.”
As for the truth:
“Our traditional buying days [of Italian bonds] are no longer,” said one board member at a European bank, one of Italy’s 10 biggest creditors, who added that the bank has also sold off previous bond purchases. “Unless there is more certainty on Italians changing direction, it will be very tough for them to find buyers.”
It gets worse:
“You’re better off doing it now rather than waiting,” said one investment banker who is currently working on plans for bank clients to further sell down their Italian bond holdings. “It’s better to take the losses now when everyone is expecting it rather than wait around for a default.”
The ECB has been buying Italian bonds to keep down yields since August. Since then, the institution has bought about €110bn of European government debt, some of which traders say is Italian debt. Most sales have been and will be on the open market.
“The market is still as liquid as hell for those that want to sell,” added a senior banker at one non-European bank. “We managed to sell off half of our holdings in one morning.”
Completing the picture is the answer of who the dumb money is:
Italian bonds still have one support bloc. Domestic banks appear to be holding on to their much larger holdings. As of last December, EBA stress tests showed Intesa Sanpaolo held €60bn of Italian debt. UniCredit and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena held €49bn and €32bn respectively. Recent results indicate that those holdings have changed little.
“We will keep investing the largest part of our liquidity in Italian government bonds,” said Corrado Passera, chief executive officer at Intesa Sanpaolo, in a call with analysts this week. “We believe they provide the right yields vis-à-vis the cost. So no policy change on our side.”
Still, according to the investment banker advising firms on their Italian holdings, the domestic banks’ decisions to hold on could have more to do with their inability to offload such large amounts quickly and without deep losses. Indeed, some Italian bankers seem resigned to the situation.
“We feel that fears of a default are greatly overdone, but the market psychology is what it is,” added an executive board member at another large Italian bank, which is also holding onto its bonds. “Lots of players do not want to buy them. They think it is better to sell if you have the opportunity to.”
Capital concerns are also preventing them from selling. “The key issue is on solvency and I think they made a mistake in requiring us to hold more capital,” said the chief executive of a mid-sized Italian bank. “To meet these levels we cannot sell too much of our sovereign debt.”
So instead of selling, Italian banks are doing all they can to dodecatuple down and...buy!?
Right... Thank you for putting that target sign on your back. And also thank the Consob for actually extending the short sell ban contrary to what we said yesterday. Naturally, Europe will never allow financials to be shorted ever again.
Speaking of, where are those ALZ/ASSGEN CDS quotes again?