Passing a European Banking stress test these days is a little like farting - easy to do, mostly hot air, and yet it typically warns of something else coming down that isn't going to be pretty
There is no better way to describe what the recently departed CFTC commissioner Scott O'Malia just did when he bailed from the commodity watchdog to become the new head of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, aka ISDA, the biggest banking group that has constantly opposed every intervention and attempt to regulate the swaps market by the CFTC since the Lehman crisis, than an epic farce.
Despite yesterday's lackluster earnings the most recent market levitation on low volume was largely due to what some considered a moderation in geopolitical tensions after Europe once again showed it is completely incapable of stopping Putin from dominating Europe with his energy trump card, and is so conflicted it is even unable to impose sanctions (despite the US prodding first France with BNP and now Germany with the latest DB revelations to get their act together), as well as it being, well, Tuesday, today's moderate run-up in equity futures can likely be best attributed to momentum algos, which are also rushing to recalibrate and follow the overnight surge in the AUDJPY while ignoring any drifting USDJPY signals.
Day after day, headlines from Argentina implore Judge Griesa to do the "fair, responsible" thing and lift his judgment that holdouts get paid before current bondholders receive their payments... and day after day Argentina's demands are met with silence or denials. Today, though, with 1 week left until Argentina must put up or shut up, Judge Griesa has come out swinging...
*U.S. JUDGE SAYS OF ARGENTINA RULINGS: 'JUDGMENTS ARE JUDGMENTS'; ARGENTINA'S 'INCENDIARY` RHETORIC `UNFORTUNATE,'
*U.S. JUDGE URGES 'SENSIBLE STEPS' TO AVOID ARGENTINA DEFAULT
While CDS spreads have surged once again, bonds trade with default probabilities around only 50% which, according to Jefferies "are expensive on underestimating the risk of default."
For a centrally-planned market that has long since lost the ability to discount the future, and certainly respond appropriately to geopolitical events, yesterday was a rough wake up call with a two punch stunner of not only the MH 17 crash pushing the Ukraine escalation into overdrive, but Israel's just as shocking land invasion of Gaza officially marking the start of a ground war, finally dragging global stocks out of their hypnotized slumber and pushing risk broadly lower across the globe, even if the now traditional USDJPY and AUDJPY ramp algos have woken up in the past few minutes and will be eager to pretend as if nothing ever happened.
Nomura has threatened to seek the immediate repayment of at least €100 million of loans to Espirito Santo Financial Group, prompting today’s sale by the Portuguese co. of a stake in Banco Espirito Santo, according to people with knowledge of the talks who asked not to be identified. Failure to repay the loan could have triggered multiple defaults across cos. within Espirito Santo group.
But... but... the VIX said everything is ok, and European rates were the lowest they have been in centuries... How can something possibly go wrong?
It just did.
The Fed spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on increasing Lending with the idea that loan growth increases economic activity. Is it possible that it is Interest Income derived from Savings that is more important to economic growth?
Following yesterday's S&P surge on the worst hard economic data (not some fluffy survey conducted by a conflicted firm whose parent just IPOed and is thus in desperate need to perpetuate the market euphoria) in five years, there is little one can comment on how "markets" react to news. Good news, bad news... whatever - as long as it is flashing red, the HFT algos will send momentum higher. The only hope of some normalization is that following the latest revelation of just how rigged the market is due to various HFT firms, something will finally change. Alas, as we have said since the flash crash, there won't be any real attempts at fixing the broken market structure until the next, and far more vicious flash crash - one from which not even the NY Fed-Citadel PPT JV will be able to recover. For now, keep an eye on the USDJPY - as has been the case lately, the overnight USDJPY trading team has taken it lower ahead of the traditional US day session rebound which also pushes the S&P higher with it. For now the surge is missing but it won't be for longer - expect the traditional USDJPY ramp just before or as US stocks open for trading.
At the heart of the last financial crisis, some compared CDS to buying home insurance on a neighbor's home and burning it down; it appears the USA has come a long way in the last few years. As NDTV reports, employees at The Orange County Register received a rather unusual request from their employer - Freedom Communications - writing to request workers' consent to take out life insurance policies on them.... But the beneficiary of each policy would not be the survivors or estate of the insured employee, but the Freedom Communications pension plan. Because such life insurance policies receive generous tax breaks, they are ideal investment vehicles for companies looking to set aside money to pay for pension plans. But in many cases, companies and banks can use the tax-free gains for whatever they choose, "Companies don't promise regulators they will use it for any specific purpose." Of course, it is the banks that are the biggest utilizers of this. Forget buybacks, just unleash some anthrax to really juice EPS this quarter?
Following last night's laughable (in light of the slow motion housing train wreck that is taking place, not to mention the concurrent capex spending halt and of course the unwinding rehypothecation scandal) Chinese PMI release by HSBC/Markit (one wonders how much of an allocation Beijing got in the Markit IPO) which obviously sent US equity futures surging to new record highs, it was almost inevitable that the subsequent manufacturing index, that of Europe, would be a disappointment around the board (since it would be less than "optical" to have a manufacturing slowdown everywhere in the world but the US). Sure enough, first France (Mfg PMI 47.8, Exp. 49.5, 49.6; and Services PMI 48.2, Exp. 49.4, Last 49.3) and then Germany (Mfg PMI 52.4, Exp. 52.5, Last 52.2; Services 54.8, Exp. 55.7, Last 56.0), missed soundly, leading to a broad decline in the Eurozone PMIs (Mfg 51.9, Exp. 52.2, Last 52.2; Services 52.8, 53.3, Last 53.2), which meant that the composite PMI tumbled from 53.2 to 52.8: the lowest in 6 months.
what will make the Ukraine restructuring fascinating is if the "activist" bondholder investors, aka vultures, aka holdouts, are not your usual hedge funds, but none other than the Kremlin, which after accumulating a sufficient stake to scuttle any prenegotiated, voluntary transaction can demand virtually anything from Kiev in order to allow the country to make the required adjustments on its bonds to avoid an outright sovereign default. Because who else can't wait for Putin Capital Management LP?
After 2 days of weakness following the SCOTUS decision against them, Argentina unveiled a plan to restructure their debt - swapping existing foreign law debt to local law (more manipulatable and less legally enforceable) bonds, though Citi warns "implementing [the swap] may be technically challenging.". This 'voluntary swap' action is not a clear 'default event' but CDS spreads surging to over 3000bps and longer-dated bond prices tumbling once again suggest the market believes the path is clear as holdouts will once again hold out. As we explained here, there are five main scenarios and it appears, given these actions - that Argentina is playing hardball and will restart negotiations over the debt exchange. As Jefferies warns, "there's a high chance of default," but Argentina's economy minister Kicillof explained "everyone stay calm, the reconstruction of Argentina is not jeopardized." This plan was then ordered in violation of the anti-evasion policy SCOTUS set in place.
"Simple Jack" is back. Yesterday it was the 4x oversubscription for Kenyan debt at 7% yield; today we see bailed-out Cyprus (yes that Cyprus - in "emergency situation" and still with capital controls) managed to sell EUR 750 million of 5 year maturity debt at a 4.85% yield. As Reuters reports, this is the fastest comeback to the public markets of any bailed-out European country. "People are searching for yield," said of Martin Wilhelm, founder of IfK, a German Kiel-based bond boutique, which runs a bond fund with Acatis; and that is clear as Cyprus just issed at a cheaper cost of funding than Greece (4.95% 2 months ago). In the understatement of the day, Michael Leister, senior strategist at Commerzbank. said "the risk is that valuations and primary market dynamics aren't related to fundamentals anymore." Cyprus economy is expected to contract 4.2% this year. Like Greece's deal in April, the buyers are expected to largely British- and U.S.-based hedge funds.
As reported yesterday, The SCOTUS dealt a major blow to Argentina hopes it would avoid making payments on its "holdout" bonds when it enforced a lower-court ruling that said Argentina can't make payments on its restructured debt unless it also pays holdout hedge funds headed by Elliott Management, best known for briefly seizing an Argentina ship in late 2012. The immediate result was a major rout in the country's sovereign bonds, which also sent Argentina CDS soaring. Sadly for Argentina, this would hardly be the end of it, and about an hour ago, Standard & Poor added insult to injury and lowered its long-term foreign currency rating on Argentina to CCC- from CCC+ citing a "higher risk of default on the country's foreign currency debt." As a result, yesterday's drop in bonds has continued, if at a more moderate pace, and the country's USD bond due 2024 hav continued to sink in intraday trading. So what is next for the cash-strapped Latin American country for which the road ahead is suddenly quite "challenging" and default appears increasing like the only way out? For the answer we go to Citi's Jeffrey Williams who has laid out the five most likely developments.