Illinois Teachers' Retirement System Enters The Death Spiral: AIG Wannabe's Go-For-Broke Strategy Fails As Pension Fund Begins Liquidations

Two few months ago we disclosed how the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) was doing all it can to become the next AIG. In addition to, or maybe precisely due to, its deplorable fundamental condition, which can be summarized as being 61% underfunded on its $33.7 billion in assets, with a performance record of down $4.4 billion in 2009 and 5% in 2008, the fund, courtesy of a detailed analysis by Alexandra Harris of the Medill Journalism school at Northwestern, was found to be on its way to trying to become a veritable self-made TBTF: as was described then, "TRS is largely on the risky side of the contracts, selling and writing OTC derivatives, including credit default swaps, insurance-like contracts that guarantee payment in the event of a default." In other words, TRS was selling substantial amounts of derivatives, which held the fund's other assets as hostage in case the collateral calls started coming in, as should the market broadly decline, the value of the downside derivatives would "increase" and the seller (in this case TRS) would need to pledge ever more collateral against these wrong way bets. Not only that, but the Fund is currently getting annihilated on its curve exposure: "TRS appears to be betting that long-term Treasury yields will greatly increase" we wrote back then. So as a result of i) its massive underfunded fundamentals and ii) a bet that the market would turn bullish, i.e., spreads would drop (they are rising), and treasuries would plunge (we all know where they are today), which was supposed to happen by now but isn't as the economy is now officially double dipping, the fund has basically thrown in the towel and is proceeding with liquidations. The problem there is that due to its derivative exposure, liquidations now become self-reinforcing, as more cash needs to be pledged as collateral in a declining market, and the AIG death spiral we all know and love, follows. The only thing missing is for Goldman to raise its overnight variation margin requirements and it's game over, as we get a brand new AIG on our hands. And since Goldman is among the 60 or so asset managers that actually decide how the fund invests its meager assets, it is fully aware of its precarious position, and it is a sure bet that Goldman is currently deciding when to pull the plug on the TRS life support.

Goldman Expects "Sizeable Additional QE By The Fed", Provides EUR Update

The often ridiculed (for some incomprehensible reason) John Taylor of FX Concepts is once again proven spot on with his EUR top call, which came when the European currency was at 1.33, at about the time when Goldman reinforced its long EURUSD call. A few weeks and 6% lower, here is Goldman explaining what they really meant (again). In a nutshell - despite the transitory economic boost driven by a plunging EUR export-boom is over, Goldman is hopeful the lingering effects will remain forever. And Goldman continues to be very bearish on the dollar, for one simple reason: "Our expectations for sizeable additional QE by the Fed will only add to the Dollar negative mix towards the end of the year." We are waiting for the Jackson Hole announcement with bated breath: rumor is the Chairman has mastered the alchemy process of converting linen to gold, and will commence printing the shiny metal shortly.

Daily Credit Summary: August 23 - Low Volume, Low Range, Low Growth

Spreads closed marginally wider, at the worst levels of the day, after an anemic volume day that only picked up in activity when we weakened. Overnight angst from Australia combined with some weakness in EU data was marginally trumped early on by M&A chatter and headline spin on US ECO data but further evidence of a deflationary view of the world (NSC 100Y issue) seemed to provide some downward pressure and despite valiant attempts to steepen the curve or drive AUDJPY up, stocks ended at their lows of the day as did spreads at their wides.

We have had a number of clients asking about our views on the forthcoming GM IPO. Suffice it to say, and in the interests of brevity, we are not overly impressed and worry about this on many fronts as anything but a flipper's fantasy (drop us a line for somewhat more coherent thoughts). Most notably we have noticed something rather fascinating in the Auto sector. The relationship between GM's 2016 bonds and the Ford Equity price has been amazingly (and we mean incredibly) consistent for many months now - a simple arb at around 2.5x Ford's stock price explains huge amounts of variance in the GM bond price and we suggest tracking this going into the IPO for any signs of a preference. One we would expect is selling of Ford to buy into the GM IPO in hopes of flipping soon after and still leaving the manager equally exposed to the Auto sector - this would also be interesting as the GM bonds have residual ownership in the new GM and may be a decent hedge here should the deal be 'better' than many expected. Just thinking out loud on this but we will keep an eye on it.

Greek Bonds Slump As Austerity Backfires, Country Enters "Death Spiral", And The Violent End Game Approaches

Those patiently following the Greek Bond-Bund spread to its inevitable conclusion have been fully aware that the plan that Europe is betting its entire future on, is patently flawed: namely that austerity, by its definition does not, and will not work. In fact, instead of bringing stability, austerity will slowly but surely eat away at the economy of whatever country it is instituted in - in some cases slowly, in others, like Greece, very rapidly. Indeed, the Greek spread has now risen to levels last seen during the early May near-revolution in Athens, at well over 800 bps. And for the specific consequences of austerity, Germany's Spiegel has done a terrific summary of what it defines as a "death spiral" for the Mediterranean country: "Stores are closing, tax revenues are falling and unemployment has hit an unbelievable 70 percent in some places. Frustrated workers are threatening to strike back. A mixture of fear, hopelessness and anger is brewing in Greek society." Spiegel quotes a a typical Greek: ""If you take away my family's bread, I'll take you down -- the government needs to know that. And don't call us anarchists if that happens! We're heads of our families and we're desperate." All those who think violent strikes in the PIIGS are a thing of the past, we have news for you. The (pseudo) vacation season is over, and millions of workers are coming back. They may not have money, but they have lots of free time, lots of unemployment, and even more pent up anger. Things are about to get very heated once again, first in Greece, and soon after, everywhere else.

Daily Credit Summary: August 17 - POMO you don't!

Spreads tightened across Europe and the US today with indices outperforming intrinsics thanks to rumors of JPY intervention and headlines proclaiming European sovereign fears over, the US recovery still in place, a 'coming' M&A boom, and the start of the Fed POMO encouraging risk-taking. The thinness of markets (given the summer slump and general lack of desire) enabled modest re-risking to move markets rapidly at the index levels across sovereigns, financials, and corporates in the US and Europe. The completion of the Irish and Spanish debt issues today seemed in and of itself enough to get everyone going (despite notably higher yields in the former and suspected 'help' from the ECB in both) and despite a major drop in German confidence, bond spreads and CDS compressed relative to Bunds with a feeling of squeeze to the move in SovX today - 9bps tighter vs 6bps intrinsics and leaving the index notably rich to intrinsics overall.

Irish CDS Tightens 20 bps After Successful Bond Auctions

Irish CDS, which recently was trading wide of 300, tightened materially after the country, most likely with a very direct ECB intervention, managed to place two €0.75 billion auctions, the first a 4% due 1/15/2014, and the second: 5% due 10/18/2020. The Bid To Cover on the first was 5.4, compared to a BTC of 3.1 at the last auction held in May, explained simply by the surge in the rate from 3.11% to 3.627%. The 2020, however, saw the BTC drop from 3.0 to 2.4 as the yield dropped from 5.537% to 5.386%. In other words, the ECB overbid for the near maturity, and likely just put in for a token amount. And for some odd reason, CDS traders see this latest central bank intervention to extend and pretend as a favorable development, and have decided to run away from Irish risk for the time being. The question of how long the ECB can continue this charade is relevant: after all the Fed has just one country to deal with. And continuing with Ireland, the country's central bank stated that the net cost of Anglo-Irish to the government may be €22-25 billion, even as it cleared up hypocritically that capital raising via taxing banks' excessive reliance on short-term borrowings would be preferable. Of course, the central bank should keep its mouth shut, and be happy that the ECB will continue to support any part of the curve, as in its absence the country would be long insolvent.

Eton Park Joins Soros And Paulson In Making GLD Fund's Top Stock Holding

Eton Park, the hedge fund founded and ran by Goldman's youngest partner, Eric Mindich, has just joined Paulson and Soros in making GLD his largest common stock position at $800 million (in addition to owning calls and puts on GLD for another $1.1 billion in gross notional). The fund also owns puts for almost $900 million gross in the MSCI Emerging Markets index, but without having any detail on the strike and duration, this position could be equivalent to a net notional of anything (not to mention possible arbs with non-disclosable CDS and other OTC products). Either way, as Eton Park had no GLD common holdings at March 31, it is now clear where a substantial buying interest in the ETF came from in Q2.

Nic Lenoir Macro Update: Bearish On Japan And The Yen

My conclusion is that the only possible way for the Nikkei to appreciate (in JPY terms, as quoted) and the Nikkei to depreciate in USD terms is for USDJPY to appreciate. People have been talking a lot recently about the BOJ possibly stepping up in the market to stop the JPY appreciation but it is believed and they have hinted that these levels are not necessarily a concern for them yet. However GDP data disappointed quite a bit, and this could be the boost in terms of public opinion and political capital for intervention. Whether it is by buying calls on Nikkei or buying USDJPY between 85.00 and 85.40 with a stop on a daily close below 83.50, I think this is a great opportunity especially for traders who are already short US/European equities and/or short AUD and emerging currencies. A breakdown of this USDJPY / S&P correlation would be very interesting. USDJPY also trade in line with 10Y US yields traditionally, and they on the other hand keep dropping like a stone. Something has to give here and personally I believe it could well be the JPY. I feel better about this call since everyone I floated the idea to seemed to think I am crazy. Usually contrarian trades have a way to come to fruition when no one thinks they will. I would keep an eye on the 10Y Japan CDS as well for confirmation. To me it looks like Japan is about to make a move in the race to the bottom.

Upcoming Weekly Calendar

A look at the key economic events in the relatively quiet week ahead from the perspective (and benchmarks) of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman's EURUSD Forecast Is Now Most Erratic Ever

One of the classic comedy themes of the year has been Goldman's series of failed recommendations on the EURUSD, where the hedge fund has had about a 1 out of 10 "success" rating (for its clients). Today, the Markets Strategist Mark Tan recaps the firm's 3, 6 and 12 month forecast on the EURUSD, which are, conveniently, 1.22, 1.35 and 1.38. That's like saying the S&P will be in a range of 950 to 1500. At least the firm is sure to "hit" its projected range.... And be sure to watch that major inflection point some time in December which send the dollar sharply lower: is Goldman implicitly saying the "real deal" QE will now come around New Year's, just after the elections and just before the government has to raise the debt ceiling regardless? One thing we agree with, as we have long claimed: look for strikes and other expressions of non-appreciation to spike once everyone is back from vacation. As Goldman says: "One of the main reasons we incorporated downside risks to our EUR/$ forecast (1.22 in 3-months) is to reflect the potential for rising political tension again. This could potentially occur as Europe returns from its summer lull and is confronted with the reality of unpopular austerity measures." What are the InTrade odds on CNBC broadcasting the next storming of the Greek parliament?

Arbing Moody's Sovereign Ratings Via CDS Pair Trades

Now that sovereign CDS (and ratings) are back in vogue with everyone finally expecting the world to relapse into a double dip, Zero Hedge has compiled Moody's sovereign ratings and spread these alongside the CDS levels in any given bucket to propose several trade ideas taking advantage of Moody's market lagging inefficiency.

Daily Credit Summary: August 10 - Bad Start, Queasy Finish

Spreads closed wider today with HY underperforming IG and for the sixth day in a row, credit underperformed equity on a beta-adjusted basis. The IG and HY indices closed off their worst levels of the day (just prior to the Fed comments) but notably underperformed stocks in the subsequent rally as every correlated asset class disconnected from stocks post Fed. This was a day of three parts to a great degree: pre-market, pre-Fed, and post-Fed; with credit underperforming equities through each phase and financials weak in general - particularly the majors. IG closed at its widest level since 7/28 and HY its widest close in August. IG and HY saw their largest close-to-close widenings since 7/16 (in percentage terms) - the day of the big drop in Consumer Sentiment.

Goldman Explains Why It Is "QE2 Or Bust" For Stocks Tomorrow

Just in case you missed Goldman's economic team shift to outright bearishness, Jan Hatzius presents several key observations that other economists (particularly BofA's Bianco and Dutta) have yet to grasp. And even as Goldman openly expects a recommencement in debt monetization tomorrow to the tune of $1 trillion, Hatzius openly acknowledges that this decision could be delayed... And such a decision would be a major mistake, as it is already priced in: "Such a decision could prove to be a serious mistake, because a
significant part of the recent easing in financial conditions is
probably due to market expectations of a more expansionary monetary
Indeed, if a disappointment on Tuesday results in a significant
renewed tightening of conditions, the decision might ultimately hasten
the transition to further easing steps." In other words, it is pretty much QE or bust for stocks.