With equity valuations no longer levitating but in a different, 4th dimension altogether, and credit spreads compressing dramatically (and unreasonably)... It is in situations like these, when the crash comes, that the proverbial run for liquidity forces central banks to coordinate liquidity injections. However, something tells me that this time, the trick won’t work. Over almost a century, we have witnessed the slow and progressive destruction of the best global mechanism available to cooperate in the creation and allocation of resources. This process began with the loss of the ability to address flow imbalances (i.e. savings, trade). After the World Wars, it became clear that we had also lost the ability to address stock imbalances, and by 1971 we ensured that any price flexibility left to reset the system in the face of an adjustment would be wiped out too. From this moment, adjustments can only make way through a growing series of global systemic risk events with increasingly relevant consequences. Swaps, as a tool, will no longer be able to face the upcoming challenges. When this fact finally sets in, governments will be forced to resort directly to basic asset confiscation.
Wondering why the Italian bond market has been stable and "improving" in recent months, with yields relentlessly dropping as a mysterious bidder keeps waving it all in despite the complete political void in the government and what may be months of uncertainty for the country, and despite both PIMCO and BlackRock recently announcing they are taking a pass on the blue light special offered by BTPs? Simple. As the Bank of Italy reported earlier today, total holdings of Italian bonds by Italian banks hit an all time record of €351.6 billion in February.
European bank stocks are officially in bear market territory, now down over 22% from their highs with today's drop closing the index at seven month lows. Financial stocks have played catch down to credit's early warning weakness but still have more room to run. The correlation between financials and sovereigns has been notably broken down in the last few weeks - as it seems an external funding source has saved European sovereign debt (perhaps one that just wants to get away from its vicious cycle-like devaluation and diversify into anything non-JPY-denominated). On the day, Portugal blew wider at the open (+22bps) only to be magnificently bid back to unchanged by the invisible hand. Spain and Italy drifted slightly tighter on the day. Stocks were similarly low range today. Swiss 2Y closed at 3-month lows as EURUSD retraced back from its highs to close practically unchanged from Friday at 1.3000.
The paper studied the non-linear relationships between Italy sovereign risk as gauged by CDS and the liquidity levels in the secondary bond market, using Bid/Ask Spreads as the gauge for liquidity in an attempt to determine the viability of the ECB's OMT & LTRO interventions.
I was a little early, but just as I promised, those European bank runs are coming as expected. Wait until I release my newest EU crash analysis, Lehman x 3, nearly guaranteed!!!
This past week a near doubling of the amount to the ECB coincides with the Fed's non involvement with the direct bailout of European banks from $4,192 million to $8,343 million.
Those who have been following our exclusive series of the Fed's direct bailout of European banks (here, here, here and here), and, indirectly of Europe, will not be surprised at all to learn that in the week ended February 27, or the week in which Europe went into a however brief tailspin following the shocking defeat of Bersani in the Italian elections, and an even more shocking victory by Berlusconi and Grillo, leading to a political vacuum and a hung parliament, the Fed injected a record $99 billion of excess reserves into foreign banks. As the most recent H.8 statement makes very clear, soared from $836 billion to a near-record $936 billion, or a $99.3 billion reserve "reallocation" in the form of cash - very, very fungible cash - into foreign (read European) banks in one week.
A successful entrepeneur's take on the European sitaution...
Wherever you looked today in Italy, shares were halted. From Saipem to Seat and From Banco Popolare to BMPS, individual stocks fell between 5% and 45% in some cases. Spain also fell alongside its incorrigible risk-on peripheral neighbor as dividend suspensions, outlook cuts, rating downgrades, and a growing concern about the banking system's legitimacy wear on sentiment. Italian sovereign risk was largely unchanged but as the US opened it started to bleed wider - but in general bonds ignored the stress in stocks. FX markets also were un-phased as EUR continued to test higher. CHF did, however, strengthen notably (against the USD, EUR, and mostly against the JPY - up 28% in the last six months!). The CHF strength did nothing for demand for Swiss rates though as they pushed higher to 10-month highs. The big problem though lies in credit. Just as in the US, credit markets in Europe are massively divergent from stocks' exuberance - and today's surge in Europe's VIX also echoes the disconnect we are seeing evolve in the US. Things are shifting...
G4+CHF can fight the currency wars longer and more aggressively than small G10 and EM countries can. However, as Citi's Steven Englander notes, it also takes a lot of depreciation to crowd in a meaningful amount of net exports. His bottom line, GBP, CHF and JPY have a lot further to depreciate. In principle, the USD can easily fall into this category as well, but right now the USD debate is focused on Fed policy – were it to become clear that balance sheet expansion will end well beyond end-2013, the USD would fall into the category of currency war ‘winners’ as well. Critically, though, the reality of currency wars is that policymakers do not use FX as cyclical stimulus because of its effectiveness; they use it because they have hit a wall with respect to the effectiveness of fiscal and monetary policies, and are unwilling to bite the structural policy bullet. The following seven points will be on every policymakers' mind - or should be.
In March 2012, Okayama Metal & Machinery became the first Japanese pension fund to make public purchases of gold, in a sign of dwindling faith in paper currencies. Okayama manages pension funds for about 260 small and mid-sized companies in the Okayama area. "By diversifying currencies, we aim to reduce risks associated with them," said Yoshi Kiguchi, the fund's chief investment officer. "Yields become stable if you put small amounts into as many types of holdings as possible." Of its 40 billion yen ($477 million) in assets, the fund has invested around ¥500 million-¥600 million in gold, he said. Initially, the fund aims to keep about 1.5% of its total assets of Y40bn ($500m) in bullion-backed exchange traded funds, according to chief investment officer Yoshisuke Kiguchi, who said he was diversifying into gold to “escape sovereign risk”. Other pension funds in Japan are following their lead according to the Wall Street Journal. Japanese pension funds are diversifying into gold "largely to mitigate the damage from possible market shocks"... Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation said it has secured more than Y2 billion in investments from two pension funds for a gold fund it started in March.
As in any other Ponzi scheme, when the weakest link breaks, the chain breaks. The risk of such a break-up, applied to economics, is known as systemic risk or “correlation going to 1”. As the weakest link (i.e. the Euro zone) was coupled to the chain of the Fed, global systemic risk (or correlation) dropped. Apparently, those managing a correlation trade in IG9 (i.e. investment grade credit index series 9) for a well-known global bank did not understand this. But it would be misguided to conclude that the concept has now been understood, because there are too many analysts and fund managers who still interpret this coupling as a success at eliminating or decreasing tail risk. No such thing could be farther from the truth. What they call tail risk, namely the break-up of the Euro zone is not a “tail” risk. It is the logical consequence of the institutional structure of the European Monetary Union, which lacks fiscal union and a common balance sheet.... And to think that because corporations and banks in the Euro zone now have access to cheap US dollar funding, the recession will not bring defaults, will be a very costly mistake. Those potential defaults are not a tail risk either: If you tax a nation to death, destroy its capital markets, nourish its unemployment, condemn it to an expensive currency and give its corporations liquidity at stupidly low costs you can only expect one outcome: Defaults. The fact that they shall be addressed with even more US dollars coming from the Fed in no way justifies complacency.
US equities tried to escape the draw of a strong Treasury market and weak gold market all day but kept being dragged back to reality (with a late-day dive on decent volume making the most interesting moment of the day). The day-session range was relatively low but volumes were ok as we leaked lower on the day. NASDAQ was the weakest (thanks to AAPL's push back towards it 'generational low') and TRANS outperformed - but the latter was playing catch up to the rest from yesterday's weakness (still lagging on the week). S&P futures clung to VWAP most of the afternoon in a rather uneventful day even as VIX pushed 0.5 vols higher to close above 17% for the first time in three weeks - notably divergent from stocks. EUR strength (+0.8% this week!), while modestly supportive, has largely decoupled from equity movements this week as correlations across risk assets have dropped notably.
Ever since late March, we have said that the only realistic resolution to the Fiscal Cliff standoff (and the just as relevant latest and greatest debt ceiling hike due weeks from today as well), driven by a congress that has hit peak party-line polarity and which the recent election loss only made even more acute, would be a market mandated "resolution" (read sell off) whose only purpose is to crack the gridlock as representatives are flooded with phonecalls from angry constituents who now, and always, will be far more concerned about the value of their 401(k) than any ideological split. By that we mean an identical replica of what happened in the summer of 2011 when the market had to tumble 17% before the debt ceiling "compromise" was finally reached. This also explains why with just 6 weeks of trading in 2012 left, Goldman still forecasts a slide to its 2012 year end target (which it has kept constant since late 2011) of 1250. So while a resolution will almost certainly come, it will not be until the very last moment. As GS summarizes, "Bush income tax cuts was not resolved until December 17th, 2010. Last year’s decision to extend payroll tax cuts was not finalized until December 23rd, 2011. The current challenge is significantly more complex. Divergent views on tax policy, defense spending, and entitlements need to be resolved in a short lame-duck session of Congress." And while the market may or may not jump after there is an actual resolution, don't expect any real buying ahead of a compromise, as any uptick in the DJIA (the Beltway has still not heard of the S&P500 apparently) will immediately lessen the impetus for a deal. In fact, if the following chart from Goldman is correct, and if we are indeed to relive a replay of the summer of 2011, watch out below, especially since true wholesale liquidation across the hedge fund space has yet to occur.
Much is being made of the compression in Spanish bond spreads this week - the largest 3-day drop since Draghi's 'dream' speech. Four critical things come to mind: 1) increasing amounts of Spanish sovereign debt is now held by domestic banks, making the market less liquid (and far less transparent as any indication of 'reality'); 2) the ban on naked CDS (and Draghi's put) has created a hedging vacuum with CDS spreads collapsing and exposure slumping (technically dragging bond risk down); 3) Lower spreads reflexively mean lower probability of Rajoy saying "Si" - which is what is helping spreads compress (leaving event-risk high - as indicated by the outperformance of our legal arb trade); and perhaps most importantly 4) Recency bias is incredible - we have seen 100-plus percent rises in Spanish risk followed by 35-plus percent retracements a number of times and the current level of Spain risk is still above LTRO-inspired crisis levels. So let's not get all excited quite yet eh?