VIX Closes At Lowest Level Since Summer Of 2007

No, not 2008. 2007. It is at the same level it traded last when the S&P hit its all time highs, when stocks moved 10% on a Cramer recommendation, when complacency was virtually infinite, and just before the first quant wipe out of August 2007. That said, the summer of 2007 did not have a politburo of 12 Fed presidents and one Chairman determining every single tick in the Russell 2000. In that regard, this time is truly is different. Expect the VIX of the policy instrument now known as the stock market, to hit 0 as vol in FX, rates and commodities approaches asymptote.

Illinois Seeks To Issue $8.75 Billion Bond To Pay Overdue Bills As Muni Issuance Market On Verge Of Shutdown

While Illinois' desire to finally tackle its unsustainable fiscal situation is admirable, the process is starting to disclose some very stinky rot below the surface. On the heels of the recent hike in the corporate tax rate, today Bloomberg reports that governor Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to authorize an $8.75 billion bond sale. The use of proceeds? To pay $6 billion in backlogged bills: read invoices that the state has been unable to pay so far due to what technically should be classified as a liquidity crunch, and non-technically as complete lack of cash. Luckily, entities that are owed money by the state at least have a chance to get paid. Earlier, state House of Representatives defeated a borrowing bill that was designed to
eliminate the pile of invoices that is at least five months old. The state's payment delinquency also includes pension funds: local underfunded pensions are owed almost $4 billion in payments by the state. In the meantime, Chicago CDS dropped on the news of the tax hike, declining from 28 bps to 300 yesterday, the lowest since December 9. Whether this means that the state will be able to find sufficiently stupid investors whose capital will go to nothing besides funding overdue invoices, is a totally separate matter however. Perhaps a good indication of the ravenous appetite for muni debt (in addition to the fresh 52 week low in virtually every single muni bond fund), is that the New Jersey agency has shrank the size of a proposed $1.2 billion refinancing offering by roughly 40% and hiked yields on the sale as it struggled to market bonds to investors on Thursday. As the secondary muni market is plunging, the primary market for issuance is on the verge of shutting down completely. Cue in QE3.

With Friends Like Japan Who Needs Acne?

If you were worried about the Portuguese auction tomorrow fear not! Japan decided to be proactive fighting this latest break-out of European sovereign CDS rates and extend a very unselfish hand. Indeed how could one doubt their good intentions? All they want is to make sure their currency stops appreciating in order to keep the youth unenployment rate in Italy around 29%. Following China's lead Japan announced they would buy European bonds. With only 200% debt to GDP ratio it makes sense for them to go ahead and chip in to help Portugal throw bad money after an even worse structural issue. China gets relatively little bad press for supporting European markets as conventional wisdom assumes their official 20% debt to GDP ratio is accurate. Other analysts much better informed on the subject than I am, in fact some even created a fund dedicated to benefit from when China's economic miracle is exposed for the ponzi scheme it is, claim actual numbers are much closer to 120% but the people's republic uses all sorts of accounting trickery and local government vehicles to disguise the true extent of its indebtedness. Japan however shall not benefit from the general public's stupidity with debt levels well publicized. Indeed as we discussed many times before, Japan's public debt is astronomical...Obviously Japan's announcement had not so much to do with their desire to rescue Portuguese finances, but instead is aimed in my opinion to the obvious secondary effect of weakening the JPY. That will work to temporarily slow down the fall of EURJPY, but when it comes to USDJPY it is exclusively driven by the 2Y UST/JGB rate spread. So if Japan really wants to weaken the Yen they might as well start dumping their 2Y treasuries. With the time interval between solvency crises shrinking exponentially as the eventual end game approaches, I have my doubts as to how much good will come from this touching display of Eurasian brotherly love. Perhaps is this why the Dollar index refuses to trade South this morning... - Nic Lenoir

One Minute Macro Update

All the news that refuses to matter when bad, and causes manic surges in the EURUSD when not bad, continues to come out of Europe. All the other global news just refuses to matter period, unless it has to do with the Fed's linen printing habits.

And Irish CDS Is Outtahere

It seems at least one person read Buiter's 84-page "Europe is pretty much doomed" (our titling) magnum opus over the weekend. Irish CDS tells the whole story.

One Minute Macro Update

Markets finally digest weak jobs data out of US, but it is Europe that has everyone's attention. Asia weakness compounding to problems.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Leak Causes BP To Shutdown 95% Of Prudhoe Bay Production

Is it about to be deja vu all over again? The FT reports that "oil markets were braced on Monday for the impact of the loss of up to 15 per cent of US crude after a pipeline leak forced BP, the UK-based oil company, to shut down 95 per cent of production from North America’s biggest field...The leak is in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which carries 14-15 per cent of US crude oil production 800 miles to Valdez, where it is shipped out in tankers. It is the only line carrying oil to market from Prudhoe Bay." And yes: BP will be blamed again: "Prudhoe Bay is jointly owned by BP, with 26 per cent; ConocoPhillips, with 36 per cent; ExxonMobil, with 36 per cent; and others with 2 per cent. BP is the operator of the field." And just as the authorities had managed to put a temporary lid on oil prices: "The cause of the leak is being investigated by state and federal regulators, as well as the company itself, but if it is not fixed within a few days, the incident could put upward pressure on oil prices once more." Time to go through the list of all BP CDS counterparties all over again?

A Global Album Of Sovereign Insolvency

When it comes to providing analytical perspectives and empirical insights into the realm of sovereign deterioration, few come close to the work of Reinhart and Rogoff. Citi’s Willem Buiter is one such man. In his latest summary piece describing in excruciating detail just how bad things are at the sovereign level (and judging by tonight's opening print in the EURUSD more are starting to realize this), Buiter provides a terrific country by country guide of what is now an insolvent world, starting with the merely extremely risky, going through the backstop-baiters, and finishing with the time bombs that have already gone off and everybody pretends not to care. For those who do care, this is a definitive guide to what each individual European (and not only) country can look forward to in an age of global moral hazard. The only open question: with China's interest now to preserve the Euro's viability, how will Beijing act in the next few months as the eurozone finally starts unraveling.

Guest Post: The Reasonable Ineffectiveness Of Mathematics In Trading

Is mathematics a quantum leap forward compared to other methods of thinking? Sure. Its precision beats every other possible “system” and human intuition is limited by experience. One cannot “see” curves without tangents, nor intuit an n- dimensional space. But everyone lives and thinks with intuition in ordinary life. Successful trading is about buying cheap and selling dear: mathematical thinking is an indispensible means to that end. But it can also obscure intuition that necessarily deals with the inexact definitions of everyday life. Further, a mindset wholly engrossed in the mathematical development of an axiom base can take one far from practical relevance.

Are Inverted Chinese Corporate Curves A Harbinger Of A "Hard-Landing" Recession?

Following in the footsteps of the recent fireworks of the Chinese SHIBOR market courtesy of the evaporation of virtually all interbank liquidity, we now get more indications that all is fine... no inverted... no fine in China. Per Bloomberg, Chinese corporate spreads have now inverted to a level not seen since pre-Lehman days: "The average yield on yuan corporate debt maturing after 2025 was 4.67 percent in December, compared with 4.97 percent for three to five-year bonds, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s China credit indexes. The last time the gap was wider was on Aug. 13, 2008, when the spread reached 31 basis points, or 0.31 percentage point." And while corporate bond issuance in China, especially on the longer end, is still very scarce (and a reason why China still does not have a representative CDS market, something that JPM will fix promptly), this should be an indication that either things are very good or starting to get rather bad, as more are "rushing" to the safety of near-term fixed income on concerns of what may happen to the long end in the next few months.

Spanish, Belgian CDS Hit Record Wides, Even As China Announces Plans To Buy €18 Billion In Spanish, Greek And Portuguese Bonds

Today, despite the announcement by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiangin in Madrid that China is willing to buy as much Spanish debt as that of Greece and Portugal (but not Ireland), or roughly €6 billion each, CDS in both the core and the semi-periphery, are back to record levels (El Pais and Reuters sources). Spain was last seen trying to catch up with Illinois, somewhere in the mid 300s, while Belgium also took out record wides at 225 bps. On one hand this is beneficial news for Spain, now that China is seemingly instituting its latest sphere of influence, but in reality is just doing all it can to precent the euro from collapsing (and thus killing Chinese exports to its second largest trading partner, the EU) and with net issuance in the country expected at just €47.2 billion, Spain may have well gone the distance to plugging as much as 13% of its net funding needs for the year. However, and what is spooking markets more, is that, as we reported yesterday, today European Commissioner Michael Bernier will publish a “consultation
paper” outlining ways to shield taxpayers from banking crises, chief among which is the renewed floating of the debt haircut idea.

As Irish ECB Borrowings Surge, The Country's Bank Run Picks Up Speed

Following the publication of the monthly Central Bank of Ireland flow statistics for November, that the country's bank ended up borrowing another massive amount of capital from both Europe and the central bank itself, should not be surprising. After all it was in November that Ireland followed Greece into the insolvency abyss, a place where none other than Olli Rehn guarded the gates to feudal hell. However, one much more troubling factor is that the depositor run from Irish banks, a development which many have cited as potentially being the catalyst for the next major step down in the European house of cards tumble, is accelerating. From the report: "Deposits from the Irish resident private sector were 6.7 per cent lower on a year-to-year basis in November 2010. The annual rate of change in deposits from Irish households was minus 4.5 per cent, whereas deposits from Irish NFCs fell by 14.9 per cent on an annual basis in November." What this means simply said, is that as more deposit capital is withdrawn from Irish banks, the more they will need to rely on ECB and ICB funding, the more distressed they will be perceived as, the more capital will be withdrawn and so on... But that is a 2011 story. And just in case anyone is wondering what the source of all the capital is that is pushing the EURCHF to fresh all time highs day after day, not to mention spreads of PIIGS CDS closing 2010 at near all time wides, please refer to the chart above.

2011 - The Year When Rare Earths Become The New Black

Since trading desks are dead, and to classify those manning them as bored would be an overstatement, here is what one such dejected individual who is neither able to ski with his/her boss over in Chamonix, nor pick 25 bps margins on CDS bid/ask spreads has come up with. Presenting the imaginary hedge fund letter describing: 2011: Year of the Rare Earth Mineral: "I have appropriated thirty-seven Chinese nationals from a Scandium Mine in Longba Town, Zhuxi Country, China, that have secured and transported my gadolinite, promethium, cerium and yttrium and other rare earth minerals holdings. As many of you are aware, I recently acquired these minerals, as well as the laborers, on a recent site visit to a rare earth mining facility in the P.B.O.C. My rare earth mineral holdings represent precisely half of my net worth."

Guest Post: Dude, Where's My Job

The storyline being sold to the American public by the White House and the corporate mainstream media is that the economy is growing, jobs are being created, corporations are generating record profits, consumers are spending and all will be well in 2011. The 2% payroll tax cut, stolen from future generations to be spent in 2011, will jumpstart a sound economic recovery. Joseph Goebbels would be proud. The economy is growing due to unprecedented deficit spending by the government, fraudulent accounting by the Wall Street banks, the Federal Reserve buying $1.5 trillion of toxic mortgage “assets” from their Wall Street owners, various home buyer and auto tax credits and gimmick programs, and Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA accumulating taxpayer loses so morons can continue to purchase houses.

One Minute Macro Update

Quick stop review of all the events shaping today's trading (and that's using the term loosely) action.