As the ECB supposedly takes it foot off the gas, and EU Summits and 'events' loom large for the careening wagon of shared sacrifice, unity, and sovereign risk, perhaps it is the nodding donkeys of Greek and Italian technocrats juxtaposed with Ireland's feistier "R" word gambit (and of course Zee German Overlords) that makes Art Cashin reflect somewhat philosophically on recent headlines. Their stereotypical interpretation has him concerned as the potential for ever-increasing culture clashes increases across the pond as sour memories and generational hatreds abound.
As the ECB has stopped its SMP bond-buying and now the LTROs are all done (until the next one of course), Portuguese bond spreads have been increasing rapidly and post-LTRO today even more so. While broadly speaking European sovereign risk is modestly higher this week (and notably steeper across the curve) leaving funding costs still very high for most nations, Portugal has exploded over 100bps wider (and almost 70bps of that today post-LTRO) to back over 1200bps wider than Bunds. Only Italian bonds are better and even there they are leaking back to unch from pre-LTRO. Perhaps, shockingly, more debt did not solve the problem of too much debt and with growth and deficits being questioned in Ireland and Portugal (and Spain), it's clear the newly collateralized loan cash the banks have received won't be extended to the medium-term maturities in sovereign bonds.
It appears markets have re-converged in the last few days across asset classes as European credit markets have rallied to meet a modestly underperforming European equity market after quite significant drops in the former a week or so ago. In the US, equity futures have reconverged with CONTEXT (our proxy for broad risk assets) as Treasuries have weakened and FX carry has improved tone overnight while futures themselves have drifted sideways. Commodities have largely drifted also with a modest improvement in Copper and slow drift up in WTI (back over $107 now). For some perspective, GDP-weighted European Sovereign risk has improved 80bps from its Nov2011 wides (or around 23%) but remains over 200bps wide of Post March 2009 lows and over 500% higher still - back only to levels seen in August 2011. Consensus appears to be that a larger than expected LTRO is positive for risk assets with Equities and then Credit the main beneficiaries (with FX the least) and a notable divide between European traders and non-European traders with the former believing the EUR will strengthen vs USD and the latter not so much (more focused on carry trades). For now, Italian and Spanish sovereign yields are leaking higher but in general wait-and-see mode remains with anxiety high.
An explicit contagion path chart, since you probably won't get info like this anywhere else...
We have discussed, at length, the symbiotic (or perhaps parasitic) relationship between the banking system in Europe and the governments (read Central Banks). The LTRO has done nothing but bring them into a closer and more mutually-reinforcing chaotic relationship as we suspect many of the Italian and Spanish banks have gone all-in on the ultimate event risk trade in their government's debt. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the bulk of the Greek bailout money will flow directly to the European banking system and Credit Suisse has recently updated the bank exposure (by country) to peripheral sovereign debt that shows just how massively dependent each peripheral nation's banking system is on its own government for capital and more importantly, how the core (France and Germany) remains massively exposed (in terms of Tier 1 Capital) to the PIIGS. Retroactive (negative) salary cuts may well not be the worst of what is to come as the bankers deleveraging returns to bite them in a phoenix-like resurrection of sovereign risk on now even-more sovereign-bloated (and levered) balance sheets.
As forecasts for peripheral macro data continue to deteriorate and core to strengthen modestly, there is little real comfort available from the European situation aside from the 800lb gorilla that all headlines are focused on today. Credit Suisse describes it as "a case of the outlook being less bad than expected, rather that it being better" and notes that post the Greek situation, despite the ongoing rally in the ever-thinning sovereign bond market, that risk premia (that were dangerously forgotten for the first decade of the Euro) will remain at elevated levels. CS sees three scenarios beyond Greece with even the best-case leaving questions of sustainability, trust, and continued negotiations yet the market's willingness to follow along the path of inevitably ruinous policies seems writ large with today's credit, equity, and FX strength.
A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To NegativeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/15/2012 19:58 -0500
For a while now we have said that the very weakest link in Europe is not the banks, not the ECB, not triggered CDS, and not even the shadow banking system (well, infinitely rehypothecated Greek bonds within a daisychain of broker-dealers, which ultimately ends up at the ECB at a negligible repo discount, that could well be the weakest link - we will have more to say about this over the weekend) but two very specific insurers: Italy's mega insurer Assecurazioni Generali, which at last check had more Greek bonds as a % of TSF than anyone else, and Europe's biggest insurer and Pimco parent, Allianz, which is filled to the gills with pretty much everything (for more on Generali, or as we like to call it by its CDS ticker ASSGEN read here, here, here, and here). Well, Moody's just gave them, and the entire European space, the evil eye, and soon the layering of margin calls upon margin calls, especially if and when Greece defaults and a third of ASSGEN's balance sheet is found to be insolvent, will make anyone who still is long CDS those two names rich. Assuming of course the Fed steps in and bails out the counterparty the CDS was purchased from.
Ladies and gentlemen: we bring you.... 9 our of 9. That would be the number of times (at least since we have started counting) that Goldman FX maven Thomas Stolper has capitulated on his calls. IN A ROW.
S&P just downgraded 34 of the 37 Italian banks it covers. Below is the full statement. And so get get one second closer to midnight for Europe's AIG equivalent: A&G. As for S&P, this is the funniest bit: "We classify the Italian government as "supportive" toward its banking sector. We recognize the government's record of providing support to the banking system in times of stress." Even rating agencies now have to rely on sovereign risk transfer as the only upside case to their reports. Oh, and who just went balls to the wall Italian stocks? Why the oldest (no pun intended) contrarian indicator in the book - none other than permawrong Notorious (Barton) B.I.G.G.S.
While hardly new to anyone who actually has been reading between the lines, and/or Zero Hedge, in the past few months, the Greek endspiel is here, and as a note by Goldman's Themistoklis Fiotakis overnight, the Greek timeline, or what little is left of it, "allows little room for error." Furthermore, "Due to the low NPV of the restructuring offer it is likely that part of this investor segment may be tempted to hold out (particularly owners of front-end bonds). How the holdouts are treated will be key. Paying them out in full would probably send a bullish signal to markets, yet it would be contradictory to prior policy statements about the desirability of high participation both in practical terms as well as in terms of signalling. On the other hand, forcing holdouts into the Greek PSI in an involuntary way would likely cause broad market volatility in the near term, but could be digested in the long run as long as it happens in a non-disruptive way (as we have written in the past, avoiding triggering CDS or giving the ECB’s holdings preferential treatment following an involuntary credit event could cause much deeper and longer-lived market damage)." Once again - nothing new, and merely proof that despite headlines from the IIF, the true news will come in 2-3 weeks when the exchange offer is formally closed, only for the world to find that 20-40% of bondholders have declined the deal and killed the transaction! But of course, by then the idiot market, which apparently has never opened a Restructuring 101 textbook will take the EURUSD to 1.5000, only for it to plunge to sub-parity after. More importantly, with Greek bonds set to define a 15 cent real cash recovery, one can see why absent the ECB's buying, Portugese bonds would be trading in their 30s: "Portugal will be crucial in determining the market’s view on the probability of default outside Greece... Given the significance of such a decision, markets will likely reflect concerns about the relevant risks ahead of time." Don't for a second assume Europe is fixed. The fun is only just beginning...
The divergence between credit and equity marksts that we noted into the European close on Friday closed and markets sold off significantly. European sovereigns especially were weak with our GDP-weighted Eurozone credit risk index rising the most in six weeks. High beta assets underperformed (as one would expect obviously) as what goes up, comes down quicker. Stocks, Crossover (high-yield) credit, and subordinated financials were dramatically wider. Senior financials and investment grade credit modestly outperformed their peers but also saw one of the largest decompressions in over a month (+5.5bps today alone in the latter) as indices widen back towards their fair-values. The 'small moderation' of the last few weeks has given way once again to the reality of the Knightian uncertainty Europeans face as obviously Portugal heads squarely into the cross-hairs of real-money accounts looking to derisk (10Y Portugal bond spreads +224bps) and differentiate local vs non-local law bonds. While EURUSD hovered either side of 1.31, it was JPY strength that drove derisking pressure (implicitly carry unwinds) as JPYUSD rose 0.5% on the day (back to 10/31 intervention levels). EURCHF also hit a four-month low. Treasuries and Bunds moved in sync largely with Treasuries rallying hard (30Y <3% once again) and curves flattening rapidly. Commodities bounced off early Europe lows, rallied into the European close and are now giving back some of those gains (as the USD starts to rally post Europe). Oil and Gold are in sync with USD strength as Silver and Copper underperform - though all are down from Friday's close.
One won't find many orthodox strategists who believe that currency printing, and thus dilution, is favorable for said currency. Yet they do exist (as a reminder, this is precisely what saved the REITs back in early 2009, who came to market with massively dilutive follow on offerings, but the fact that they had market access was enough for investors to buy the stock despite the dilution). One among them is Citi's Steven Englander who has released a rather provocative piece in which he claims that as a result of reduction in tail risk, or the possibility of aggressive ECB bond buying (and implicitly, Englander suggests that what we believe is a core correlation: between the sizes of the Fed/ECB balance sheets and the relative value of the respective currencies, is not as important as we suggest), the "EUR will be stronger if the ECB compromises its ‘principles’, but succeeds in convincing investors that the sovereign risk is limited to the smaller peripherals, rather than the core." Currency stronger on central bank printing? And by implication, an x-trillion LTRO being FX positive (and thus risk-FX recoupling)? We have heard stranger things. And remember it is the bizarro market. And finally, Morgan Stanley, which won that shootout with Goldman's Stolper two months ago on the EURUSD, has just turned tactically bullish on the currency (more shortly). For now, here is how Steven Englander explains his contrarian view.
Why anyone thinks that any one of a group of highly interlinked and interdependent countries heavily reliant on EU trade & toursim in a severe economic downturn facing harsh auterity measures may be doing well in the near to medium term is beyond me!
As expected in the aftermath of the concluded S&P ratings action on European sovereigns, the next action is for the rating agency to go ahead and start cutting related banks and insurers, as we noted over the weekend with many of the main European banks anticipated to see one or two notch cuts potentially as soon as today. Which is why the just released report "How Our Rating Actions On Eurozone Sovereigns Could Affect Other Issuers In The Region" will be read by great interest by many to get a sense of when the next shoe is about to drop. Here is what it says on that topic.
The Real Dark Horse - S&P's Mass Downgrade FAQ May Have Just Hobbled The European Sovereign Debt MarketSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/13/2012 18:55 -0500
All your questions about the historic European downgrade should be answered after reading the following FAQ. Or so S&P believes. Ironically, it does an admirable job, because the following presentation successfully manages to negate years of endless lies and propaganda by Europe's incompetent and corrupt klepocrarts, and lays out the true terrifying perspective currently splayed out before the eurozone better than most analyses we have seen to date. Namely that the failed experiment is coming to an end. And since the Eurozone's idiotic foundation was laid out by the same breed of central planning academic wizards who thought that Keynesianism was a great idea (and continue to determine the fate of the world out of their small corner office in the Marriner Eccles building), the imminent downfall of Europe will only precipitate the final unraveling of the shaman "economic" religion that has taken the world to the brink of utter financial collapse and, gradually, world war.