You can listen to CNBC, and the president, drone on about the recovery, about the wealth effect, about trickle-down economics, about why adding $150 billion in debt per month is perfectly acceptable, and about a brighter future for America and the world... or you can take a quick look at these two charts and immediately grasp the sad reality of where we stand, and even sadder, where we are headed.
With Chinese and European data disappointing and Weidmann commenting on the futility of the 'firewalls' (as we discussed earlier) ahead of the discussions later this week, European equities dropped their most in almost three weeks over the last two days closing right at their 50DMA (the closest to a cross since 12/20). Credit markets (dominated by financial weakness) continue to slide as the LTRO euphoria wears off. The LTRO Stigma, the spread between LTRO-encumbered and non-LTRO-encumbered banks, has exploded to over 107bps (from under 50bps at its best in mid Feb when we first highlighted it) and is now up over 75% since the CDS roll as only non-LTRO banks have seen any improvement in the last week. Aside from Portugal, whose bonds seem to be improving dramatically on the back of significant Cash-CDS basis compression as opposed to real-money flows as the spread between Bonds and CDS has compressed from 500bps to 250bps on the back of renewed confidence in CDS triggering, sovereign bond spreads are leaking wider all week with Italy and Spain worst.
Guest Post: Welcome To The United States Of Orwell, Part 3: We Had To Destroy Democracy In Order To Save ItSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/28/2012 11:48 -0400
The dominant narrative of our so-called 'National Security State' seems to be: we were surprised by a treacherous, shadowy, sinister enemy and we have to set aside the niceties of democracy and civil liberties to combat this new and terrible foe. It's actually very simple: whatever the National Security State does anywhere on Earth is legal. Whatever action you take to protect your civil liberties is illegal. The State holds all the hammers, and you know what happens to raised nails.
Germany's recent 'agreement' to expand Europe's fire department (as Goldman euphemestically describes the EFSF/ESM firewall) seems to confirm the prevailing policy view that bigger 'firewalls' would encourage investors to buy European sovereign debt - since the funding backstop will prevent credit shocks spreading contagiously. However, as Francesco Garzarelli notes today, given the Euro-area's closed nature (more than 85% of EU sovereign debt is held by its residents) and the increased 'interconnectedness' of sovereigns and financials (most debt is now held by the MFIs), the risk of 'financial fires' spreading remains high. Due to size limitations (EFSF/ESM totals would not be suggicient to cover the larger markets of Italy and Spain let alone any others), Seniority constraints (as with Greece, the EFSF/ESM will hugely subordinate existing bondholders should action be required, exacerbating rather than mitigating the crisis), and Governance limitations (the existing infrastructure cannot act pre-emptively and so timing - and admission of crisis - could become a limiting factor), it is unlikely that a more sustained realignment of rate differentials (with their macro underpinnings) can occur (especially at the longer-end of the curve). The re-appearance of the Redemption Fund idea (akin to Euro-bonds but without the paperwork) is likely the next step in countering reality.
Today at 2 PM, the House Financial Services Committee will hold its third hearing (and the fifth overall) on the ever more confounding topic of MF Global, its bankruptcy, and its vaporized client funds, which amount to about $1.6 billion at last check. And while Jon Corzine will not be there, virtually everyone else from the firm who can promise that said vaporitzation of funds was merely a softward glitch and not the fault of anyone in particular, will be present, from the General Counsel, to the CFO, to the Deputy General Counsel of JPMorgan, all the way to Edith O'Brien, assistant treasurer of MF Global, who is expected to plead the Fifth. One wonders why if there is nothing to hide, but that is the topic of another discussion. And as exposed last week by the WSJ, this hearing will be particularly interesting as now it has been made clear that Corzine specifically gave the order to transfer funds to JPM's account. As NJ.com summarizes: "Per JC’s direct instructions." This line, contained in an email that an MF Global finance official sent to explain a $200 million transfer to JPMorgan Chase from an MF Global account containing customer funds, will be a focal point of a congressional hearing today into the futures firm’s collapse. The email, disclosed in a congressional memo circulated Friday, has raised questions about whether the former governor and CEO of MF Global knew customer money was being used to plug holes in the firm’s finances as it plunged into bankruptcy during the last week of October. As much as $1.6 billion of client funds has gone missing, according to a trustee liquidating the futures firm."
Household net worth has recovered (nominally) around $8.0tn of the $16.4tn lost during the crisis but there has been a regime-shift in terms of the volatility of household net worth since the late 90s. As Credit Suisse notes, this hugely increased and skewed volatility has fueled heightened risk aversion among consumers and retail investors. Just as non-financial corporations are hoarding cash (on the back of their memories of the credit crisis contraction in the money markets), the lesson corporate America will not soon forget is just as resonant with Households as they value liquidity and cash (and safety) much more highly now than ever before.
Mrs. Watanabe Prepares To Blow The JGB Bubble: Household Holdings Of Japanese Bonds Slide To Lowest In 7 YearsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/28/2012 09:56 -0400
Two days ago we posted a very damning analysis of why Japan is finally facing the dilemma of either a major Yen devaluation, or, far worse, a long-overdue pop in the Japanese Government Bond (JGB) market. As expected, the conventional wisdom was that there is no danger of a JGB collapse as local households just can't get enough of JGBs following 30 years of straight deflation. As even more expected, conventional wisdom always ends up wrong, and this may be the case now. Bloomberg reports that "Finance Minister Jun Azumi’s efforts to get Japan’s households to increase investment in the nation’s debt are failing as holdings of government bonds fall to a seven-year low." Combing through the Japanese quarterly flow of funds report shows something very disturbing - the last bastion of JGB ownership, Japan's households, have started to shift out of bonds, which are now yielding 0.27% for the retail 5 Year bond, and about 1.00% for the 10 year, and are now putting their money straight into mattresses. "Japanese households owned 3.09 percent of domestic bonds in the final quarter of 2011, a decrease from 3.2 percent in the third quarter and the lowest since 2005, Bank of Japan data released March 23 show." And the worst news for any domestically funded ponzi regime: "Mrs. Watanabe” as many are housewives, have instead increased foreign-currency deposits and cash, according to the BOJ data. "It’s a case of retail JGBs not having enough yield,” said Naomi Fink, head of Japan strategy at Jefferies Japan Ltd."Households are accumulating cash and using financial investments to diversify into higher yields and JGBs don’t really provide this." ..."Individual investors are holding cash rather than bonds and other financial assets because they are wary of making risky investments, said Hiroaki Muto, a senior economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co. in Tokyo." Needless to say, when even Japanese households have given up, it's game over... for bubbles in both bonds and in "conventional wisdom."
Having been heralded around the world for solving Europe's crisis, ECB head Mario Draghi confidently states (as does every other central banker in the world) that "should the inflation outlook worsen, we would immediately take preventive steps". However, a recent analysis by Tornell and Westermann at VOX suggests the ECB has hit its limit with regard to its anti-inflationary fighting measures. The ECB appears to have lost control over standard measures of tightening: short-term interest rates (since short-term lending to banks has dropped to practically zero), increase in minimum reserve requirements (practically impossible withouit crushing the banks that they have propped up due to the sharp asymmetries - the recent cut from 2% to 1% minimum reserves saw a remarkable EUR104bn drop), and finally asset sales (the quantity of 'sensitive' or encumbered assets on the ECB's books has reached such a scale - due to LTRO, SMP, and ELA programs - leaving the 'sellable' non-sensitive assets at a level below excess deposits for the first time in ECB history). As the authors note, while this does not immediately produce an inflation flare, the lack of maneuvering space will induce an inflationary bias to ECB monetary policy as Draghi will find it increasingly expensive at the margin to hit the anti-inflationary brakes. "This bias puts the Eurozone at risk of de-anchoring long-run inflationary expectations. The danger is not inflation today, but the de-anchoring of expectations about future inflation." As we have noted many times before, the ECB (and for that matter most central banks in the world) need Goldilocks.
Yesterday, we took a quick look at Italian bond issuance since October of last year. Today it is Spain’s turn. We think they have actually done a better job. While the weighted average maturity of new Italian debt was only until August 2014, Spanish issuance has had an average weighted maturity of July 2015, almost a full year longer. The concern we have though, is that Spain has issued almost €100 billion of debt since November. Spain, with 'only' €711 billion debt, has issued 14% of that total since November. Spain seems to have been issuing even more guarantees than Italy and to even worse institutions from a credit perspective (ie, ones that are more likely to rely on the guarantee for actual payment), so the trajectory of Spanish debt is concerning.
There is noise and fluff and soap bubbles floating in the wind but don’t be distracted. Like so many things connected to the European Union it is just hype. In the first place do you think that any nation in Europe is actually going to put up money for the firewall no matter what size that they claim it will be? Let me give you the answer; it is “NO.” The firewall is just one more contingent liability that is not counted for any country’s financials, one more public statement of guarantee that everyone on the Continent hopes and prays will never be taken too seriously and certainly never used. Any rational person knows that some promise to pay in the future will not solve anything and it certainly won’t create some kind of magic ring fence around any nation. Think it through; what will it do to stop Spain or Italy from knocking at the door of the Continental Bank if they get in trouble and the answer is clearly nothing, not one thing. The firewall is just a distraction to lull all of you back to sleep and all of the headlines and discussion about it makes zero difference to any outcome and so is nothing more than a ruse. “Look this way please, do not look that way, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, put up your money to buy our sovereign debt like a good boy and everything will be just fine.”
We have been keeping a close eye on economic reports in the month of March and as of this morning's just reported Durable Goods number we are now officially at miss 15 of 17. The headline print was +2.2% to a total of $211.8 billion, on expectations of +3.0%, up from a revised -3.6% decline in January. Ex-transportation, the number was +1.6% on expectations of a 1.7% increase, while Non-defense ex aircraft was up 1.2% on Exp. of 1.5%. The primary driver in the core slump was electrical equipment which slide 2.5% in February from $10.5 billion to $10.25 billion - are Americans getting all "gizmoed out?" And finally, for those who are saying the inventory restocking is over, we have two words: Dead Wrong. "Inventories of manufactured durable goods in February, up twenty-six consecutive months, increased $1.6 billion or 0.4 percent to $373.7 billion. This was at the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis in 1992 and followed a 0.6 percent January increase. Machinery, up twenty-three consecutive months, had the largest increase, $0.6 billion or 0.9 percent to $62.2 billion. This was also at the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis." That's right - inventories just hit an all time high having increased 26 months in a row. And now you know where US economic "growth" has been hidden all these years. But yes, if you build it, they will come. Eventually. In the meantime, expect sell-side desks to again enact Q1 tracking GDP reductions.
Back in February, shortly before the big sell off in gold we warned that we have some "Horrible News For Goldbugs - Paulson Is Bullish On Gold Again." We may have some bad news again, as the 'bullish' sentiment this time comes from none other than the muppet master, after Goldman released a note overnight saying that "gold is set to glimmer as growth tarnishes." To wit: "We reiterate our constructive outlook for gold prices in 2012 and our 3, 6-and 12-mo forecasts of $1,785/toz, $1,840/toz and $1,940/toz, respectively. We acknowledge, however, that continued strong US economic data poses growing risk to our forecast for rising gold prices. Net, we reiterate our view that at current price levels gold remains a compelling trade but not a long-term investment, and we continue to recommend a long position in Dec-12 COMEX gold futures." Yes, that's great - we have only one word: Stolper That said, the only saving grace to an all out wipeout is that Goldman appears quite set on getting QE at all costs, potentially as soon as April - a move which would send the metal soaring as the Chairman can not have his cake and eat it too, absent a few helping hands from the CME of course.
Going into the US open, European equity markets are trading slightly lower with some cautious trade observed so far. In individual equity news, France’s Total have shown some choppy trade following reports from their Elgin gas field in the North Sea, shares were seen down as much as 3% but the company have played down the gas leak and have regained slightly in recent trade; however they remain down 1.4%. In terms of data releases, the final reading of Q4 GDP from the UK has recorded a downward revision to -0.3%. Following the disappointing release, GBP/USD spiked lower 20pips and remains in negative territory. In the energy complex, WTI is seen on a downward trend following last night’s build in oil reserves shown by the API data. Earlier in the session French press reported that France had made contact with the UK and the US regarding the release of emergency oil stocks, following this, WTI spiked lower around USD 0.30 but quickly regained. Looking ahead in the session, international market focus moves to the US, with durable goods orders and the weekly DOE oil inventory due later today.
- Greece's Fringe Parties Surge Amid Bailout Ire (WSJ)
- ECB fails to stem reduction in lending (FT)
- More Twists for Spanish Banks (WSJ)
- Banks use ECB cash to buy bonds, lend less to firms (IFR)
- UK still long way off pre-crisis growth – King (Reuters)
- Dublin confident of ECB deal to defer payment (FT)
- Goldman's European derivatives revenue soars (Reuters)
- Japan Faces Tax Battle as DPJ Finishes Plan on Sales Levy (Bloomberg)
- Insurance Mandate Splits US Court (FT)