The problem with trying to solve all our structural problems by injecting "free money" liquidity into financial Elites is that all the money sloshing around seeks a high-yield home, and in doing so it inflates bubbles that inevitably pop with devastating consequences. As noted yesterday, the Grand Narrative of the U.S. economy is a global empire that has substituted financialization for sustainable economic expansion. In shorthand, those people with access to near-zero-cost central bank-issued credit can take advantage of the many asset bubbles financialization inflates. Those people who do not have capital or access to credit become poorer. That is the harsh reality of neofeudal, neocolonial financialization. It is widely accepted as self-evident that all these bubbles will not pop because the central banks won't let them pop. That's nice, but if this were the case, then why did stocks crater in 2000-2001 and 2008-2009, and why did the housing bubble implode in 2008-2011? Did they change their minds for some reason? No; they assured us right up to the moment of implosion that everything was fine, there was no bubble, etc. The only logical conclusion is that bubbles pop even though central banks resist the popping with all their might.
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There was something odd in today's quarterly financial report (as of March 31) by the world's largest and most profitable hedge fund: the US Federal Reserve. Despite that its Assets Under Management have grown to a mindblowing $3.4 trillion, or about $700 billion more than this time last year, there was something oddly missing in the reported data: a surge in remittances to the US Treasury, or profits. Well, the Fed did remit some $15.3 billion to the Treasury, so not too shabby, but this was well below the $23.8 billion in Q1 2012 and under half of the remitted profit of $30.7 billion in the previous quarter. Has the world's most profitable portfolio manager, a Princetonian economist who has otherwise never traded one security in his entire life, gone cold? Please Ben, proves us wrong. And while you are at it, get to work, Mr. Portfolio Manager.
In the 1940s, the Fed adopted pegging operations to protect the financial system against rising interest rates and to ensure the smooth financing of the war effort. In effect, the Fed became part of the Treasury’s debt management team; as the budget deficit hit 25% of GDP in WW2, it capped 1Y notes at 87.5bps and 30Y bonds at 2.5%. From the massive bond holdings of its domestic banks to its exploding public debt, Japan today faces a situation very similar to the US in the 1940s. When the long-term rate climbs above 2%, the BoJ will probably adopt outright measures to underpin JGB prices to prevent turmoil in the financial system and a fiscal crisis - and just as Kyle Bass noted yesterday, they are going to need a bigger boat as direct financial repression in Japan is unavoidable.
European stocks fell for a second day-in-a-row (notable in its own right as not having happened for 5 weeks) for the biggest drop in 6 weeks capping the worst week in 2 months. Spain and Italy saw their stock indices drop 3.6% on the week. But it was European banks and peripheral sovereign bonds that saw the most damage. As JPY-funded leveraged momo come rapidly undone, Italian and Spanish bond spreads saw their biggest 2-day drop in 8 months to end back at 5-week highs. EURUSD ends the week up 0.6% (and the JPY +2.2%) as repatriation escalates. Europe's VIX is holding around 18.% (up 2.5 vols on the week).
While many would argue that youth unemployment (the real scariest chart here), in fact we suspect it is the following two charts that are really keeping Mario Draghi up at night. The lip service paid by the French and the Germans to growth strategies and youth unemployment pale in relation to the desperation of the European collateralizer-of-last-resort to de-fragment his transmission channels and unleash his own QE to the starving banking systems of Spain and Italy. As BNP notes, recent data on Italian and Spanish banks’ bad and non-performing loans (NPLs) have reignited the debate on the health of the banking sector in the eurozone’s peripheral economies and its implications for the bloc’s credit supply and, ultimately, economic growth. But what is worse is that interest rates on new loans for a company in Italy or Spain are almost double those in Germany and France. It is against this backdrop that Draghi expressed plans to revive the ABS market - but implementation will prove significantly more challenging than market hopers believe (as is clear in credit markets) and direct purchases will probably face vetoes by a number of influential members of the board. To add further salt to these fresh wounds, the FT reports that Spanish banks will need to set aside more than EUR10 billion more reserves to cover the rolling over of EUR 200 billion of 'extend-and-pretend' loans.
While yesterday saw the mainstream media cock-a-hoop at the fact that we pulled 'off-the-lows' with the phrase "buy the dip mentality" parrotted prayer-like every minute of the afternoon. Overnight shenanigans saw that BTFD mentality come and then quickly go and now the US market is fading fast. USDJPY has broken below 101 and US equity markets are testing below yesterday's lows... Treasury yields are now low on the week for the long-bond; gold and silver are holding up as JPY strength is weakening the USD broadly. Meanwhile, European peripheral debt is getting monkey-hammered (worst 2 days in 8 months)...
In a world in which the bipolar, schizophrenic markets are dominated by Mrs. Watanabe's daily gyrations of the USDJPY (in response to Kuroda's daily jawboning) which in turn has become the primary signal feeding ES algos now that fundamentals are no longer relevant and that the EURUSD-ES correlation is dead and burried, there continues to be one, almost assured way to generate alpha for those so inclined to gamble with the fastest of the vacuum tubes out there: going long the most shorted stocks, which have become the most convex way of betting that Ben Bernanke will continue to dominate the hedge fund league tables as the world's most accomplished portfolio and risk manager. Indeed, using our previous representations (Q3 2012, Q4 2012) of the most shorted stocks to generate a "long basket" and sitting it out, has generated some 40%+ annualized returns without fail. Which is why it is now time to look at the most recent roster of stocks most hated by the hedge fund community, which slowly but surely is converting into the much maligned "long onlies" as abandoning hedges is the only way to at least catch up with the market, if not overtake it.
Not only is this 'housing recovery' being built without the use of Lumber (as we explained here), but Architects are no longer useful either. The last two months - as homebuilder stocks surge and house prices spike - has seen Architectural billings plunge by the most since November 2008. The current level of activity is at its lowest since June 2012 - hardly indicative of the rampaging rapacious demand for homes that we are spoon-fed day after day...
Japanese stocks had another violent night with record trading volumes on the TOPIX. The early 'buy the dip mentality' rapidly escalated into sell-Mortimer-sell as the Nikkei 225 dropped another 1000 points after the lunch break. A late day recovery managed to close the index just in the green and all could relax that the world was once again a better place thanks to Abenomics. However, since Japan closed, Nikkei futures have been sold aggressively now testing back down towards overnight lows.
Spain has already gone bankrupt. It is not spoken of in this fashion, no one mentions it in public but that is the truth of it. The money, some $172 billion, was funneled to the banks and not to the sovereign in one more European ruse to distract everyone but the results are the same. Now it is becoming apparent that even this amount of money was not enough so more will have to be given. The money will go to the Spanish banks, the debt will be guaranteed by Spain, the contingent liability will not be counted as part of Spain's debt to GDP ratio but we will know the truth of it. Whatever direct money from Spain that goes into their banks will be called an "investment" and put on the left side of their balance sheet as an asset and the mockery will continue but I can still read a ledger; thank you very much.
Europe's non-performing loan problem is such an issue that there is increasing bluster that the ECB may take this garbage on to its balance sheet since policymakers realize that bad debts and non-performing loans (NPLs) reduce the capacity of banks to lend, hindering the monetary policy transmission mechanism. Bad debts consume capital and make banks more risk averse, especially with respect to lending to higher risk borrowers such as SMEs. With Italy (NPLs 13.4%) now following the same dismal trajectory of Spain's bad debts, the situation is rapidly escalating (at an average of around 2.5% increase per year). With Periphery non-performing loans totaling EUR 720bn across the whole of the Euro area in 2012 and EUR 500bn of which were with Peripheral banks, it seems the Cyprus deposit haircut 'non-template' may indeed become the key template.
As we hinted last night, and as the market is starting to realize, one of the bigger downstream casualties of the first rumblings that Abenomics is starting to crack, have been peripheral bond yields, with Spanish, Italian and Portuguese yields all wider by 10 bps and rising. However, that is only half the story. The other half is that, with its usual 6-8 week delay, the market is finally grasping the biggest danger in Europe - one which we have been pounding the table on week after week after week (most recently here): the soaring non-performing loans held by European banks. In fact, it took the FT to confirm what we have been warning about all along. And just so the market has a sense of how much downside may be imminent if indeed reality reasserts itself and frontrunning the Japanese carry trade both occur at the same time, here is a rather unpleasant chart courtesy of Diapason, of what expects all those who bought up Italian bonds in the recent dash-for-trash, oblivious of the collapsing fundamentals, and driven purely by FOMO. The downside could be big to quite big.
- The deeper agenda behind "Abenomics" (Reuters)
- BoJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda promises to stabilise bond market (FT)
- Obama Sees Sunset on Sept. 11 War Powers in Drone Limits (BBG)
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- Apple’s Tax Magic Leaves Irish Bondholders Unmoved (BBG)
- Asia Goes on a Debt Binge as Much of World Sobers Up (WSJ)
- All hail Gazpromia: UK gas supply six hours from running out in March (FT)
- Spain’s banks face €10bn more provisions (FT) ... and then more, and more, and more
- Truck strike may have caused Washington state bridge collapse, officials says (Reuters)
- P&G Says A.G. Lafley Rejoins as Chairman, CEO (BBG)
- Five Key Things About the SAC Insider Case (BBG)