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 19:55 -0400
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.
It will come as no surprise to anyone (other than Dallara and Venizelos perhaps) that all is not rosy in the Greek Public Sector Involvement (PSI) discussions. Whether it is the Kyle-Bass-Based discussions of the need for non-Troika haircuts to be 100% for any meaningful debt reduction, or the CDS-market-based precedent that is set from chasing after a purely voluntary, non-triggering, agreement, the entire process remains mired in a reality that Greece needs much broader acceptance of this haircut (or debt reduction) than is possible given the diverse audience of bondholders (especially given the sub-25 price on most GGBs now). As Goldman points out in a note today, the current PSI structure does not encourage high participation (due to the considerable 'voluntary' NPV losses), leaves effective debt-relief at a measly EUR30-35bln after bank recaps etc., and as we have pointed out in the past leaves the door open for a meaningful overall reduction in risk exposure to European sovereigns should the CDS market be bypassed entirely (as the second-best protection for risk-averse investors would be an outright reduction in holdings). The GGB Basis (the package of Greek bond plus CDS protection) has been bid up notably in the last month or two suggesting that the banks (who are stuck with this GGB waste on their books) are still willing to sell them as 'cheap' basis packages to hedge funds. This risk transfer only exacerbates the unlikely PSI agreement completion since hedgies who are holding the basis package have no incentive to participate at all.
As one can glean from the title, in this comprehensive report by Goldman's Paul Hissey, the appropriately named firm deconstructs the divergence between gold stocks and spot gold in recent years, a topic covered previously yet one which still generates much confusion among investor ranks. As Goldman, which continues to be bullish on gold, says, "There is little doubt that gold stocks in general have suffered a derating; initially with the introduction of gold ETFs (free from operational risk), and more recently with the onset of global market insecurity through the second half of 2011. However, gold remains high in the top tier of our preferred commodities for 2012, simply because of the extremely uncertain macroeconomic outlook currently faced in many parts of the world. The official sector also turned net buyer of gold in 2010 for the first time since 1988, and has expanded its net purchases in 2011." And so on. Yet the irony is, as pointed out before, that synthetic paper CDO, continue to be the target of significant capital flows, despite repeated warnings that when push comes to shove, investors would be left with nothing to show for their capital (aside from interim price moves of course), as opposed to holding actual physical (which however has additional implied costs making it prohibitive for most to invest). Naturally, this is also harming gold stocks. Goldman explains. And for all those who have been requesting the global gold cash cost curve, here it is...
As EURUSD leaks very gently lower into the new year (but stocks popped excitedly across quiet European markets that lacked a bond market supervisor to keep them honest), we thought it might be interesting to look at the relative strength of the Euro against six different measures. From FX option risk-reversals to ECB's European Bank Lending statistics, QE and sovereign risk relationships to Fed/ECB balance sheet dynamics, and finally from futures commitment of traders data to EUR-USD swap spread frameworks, the results are unsurprisingly mixed with a bias towards EUR weakness. Between the European auctions (and redemptions) of the next two weeks, and the FOMC meeting on the 24-25th January, we face quite a rude awakening from the low volume holiday week malaise.
UPDATE: Spanish bonds are leaking wider after the defiict projection looks set to be significantly worse than previously expected.
Something strange is happening in European risk markets this week. While that sentence is entirely 'normal' for what has become a diverging/converging flip-flopping correlation microstructure but the clear trend this week has been European Sovereign derisking and European Stock rerisking. The Bloomberg 500 index (that tracks a broad swathe of European stocks) is up 0.75% from Christmas Eve (and 1.6% from yesterday's lows) while 10Y sovereign spreads are wider by 10 to 30bps in the same period. France stands out as one of the worst performers - more than 25bps wider this week alone. Only Spain is notably improved on the week (-17bps) but all 10Y sovereigns are well off their best levels as stocks make new highs. Whether this is a front-run on asset rotation into the new year or expectations of the same risk-on ramp-job we saw on the first trading of this year is unclear - we do remind those front-runners that mutual fund cash levels are significantly lower this year than last. It is clear that yet another 'sensible' correlation (such as BTPs to equities) has broken but when volumes return and the reality of the huge supply calendar we face in the next month alone sinks in, perhaps equity ebullience will pull to bond bereavement. If stocks are reacting to a quasi-QE from the ECB, why wouldn't sovereigns who are the direct beneficiaries in that surreal LTRO-driven-carry trade?
While the world of risk explodes to the upside on the back of the LTRO-based carry trade expectations (which is not evident at all in some of the more technical relationships across the sovereign space no matter what headlines try and tell you), the very backbone of support for the fiscal evolution that Europe thinks it will achieve is now trading at a five-day low price having dropped notably post the earlier Fitch 'FrAAAnce' announcement. It is simple enough to think that banks will rapidly seek risk and buy sovereigns with their newfound wealth, but looking at CDS-Cash basis (the difference between CDS spreads and bond spreads) there has been almost no shift in supply/demand (which we would expect to tip to bond outperformance if the carry trade were being placed) and moreover, the sovereign spread curves are NOT bull steepening as one would expect from modest reach for say 2Y/3Y peripheral yield versus the 3Y LTRO. The bottom-line seems to be that equity markets are buoyed by a broad risk asset rally (and TSY selling and 2s10s30s rally) while the underlying beneficiary of this 'solution' does not seem to be improving so much. The strength in ES appears like simple momentum off an overshoot yesterday as risk assets broadly never really sold off like ES did and are now holding up well enough for today.
It is no surprise that the ECB has been less than overwhelming in its optimism, unlike Messers Barroso, Van Rompuy et al. when discussing the current and future state of the union that is Europe. While not pessimistic per se, the focus on zee stabilitee and lack of bazooka (no we don't see the 3Y LTROs as a magic bullet) is perhaps related to their view of the difficulties faced in addressing the needs of an increasingly disparate gaggle of countries. In their December Financial Stability Review, the ECB points to four key risks: (contagion, funding, macroeconomy, and trade imbalances), they fear "euro area financial stability increased considerably in the second half of 2011, as the sovereign risk crisis and its interplay with the banking sector worsened in an environment of weakening macroeconomic growth prospects". Summarizing into seven charts, the ECB provides a quick-and-dirty perspective on what is increasingly becoming obvious as capital flows and funding needs interplay with one another (for worse rather than better).
The financial crisis of the last few years has created not just a perceived shift in the creditworthiness of our financial entities but a real crack in the foundation of their business model and more importantly any explicit or implicit supports or guarantees. Moody's, in a special report on credit post crisis "The Great Credit Shift" look at the impact of the crisis on every major asset class within the credit space from sovereigns to corporates to structured finance. Noting that this crisis has profoundly changed the credit picture for sovereigns and financials, Moody's note there is some dispersion in the latter as banks have seen systematic downgrades while insurers (for now) remain on par with pre-crisis levels. More interestingly, large US regional banks represent an exception to this broad downgrade but we suspect that the continued low interest rate, low NIM, and high volatility spread environment will cause both insurers (we have long considered proxies for HY portfolios, no matter how well cushioned from vol their business models may be) and US regionals (consolidation will have the opposite effect of TBTF in our view as it will lead to more comfort with more risk-taking and expose them to more current-bank-like volatility) to face more pressure going forward (despite their lower apparent sovereign risk exposure). As BofA and Morgan Stanley trade at extreme 'crisis' levels in both CDS and equity markets, we suspect the raters have further to go and while the systemic shifts are apparent, we would expect less and not more differentiation going forward - especially if we sink into another solvency crisis.