Kudos to the Bank of Japan. Its heroic campaign to water down the yen has borne fruit.
First, the Obama administration showed during the course of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings, that when it comes to Most Preferred Voter classes, some unsecured creditors - namely labor unions, and the millions of votes they bring - are more equal than other unsecured creditors - namely bondholders, and the zero votes they bring. Five years later we are about to get a stark reminder that under the superpriority rule of a community organizer for whom "fairness" trumps contract law any day, it is now Detroit's turn to make a mockery of the recovery waterfall. As it turns out, bankrupt Detroit is proposing to favor pension funds at roughly double the rate of bondholders to resolve an estimated $18 billion in long-term obligations, according to a draft of a debt-cutting plan reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
With the IMF frantically scrambling to cover its forecast errors and model-breakdowns amid an emerging market turmoil that no one could have seen coming, the contagion is beginning to spread. With all eyes fixed on Turkey (unfixed again) or Ukraine (never fixed), Argentina's troubles are exploding. The last few days have seen yields on their 2017 bonds scream higher from 11% to 19%... and 2015 Boden prices collapse.
There is no point in trying to avert or prevent bubbles caused by monetary pumping by regulatory means. If one avenue for bubble formation is cut off, the newly created money will simply flow into another area. In fact, new bubbles almost always become concentrated in new sectors. If there were a genuine desire to keep the formation of bubbles in check, adopting sound money would be a sine qua non precondition. However, no-one who has any say in today's system has a desire to adopt sound money and give up on the failed centrally planned monetary system in favor of a genuine free market system. Our guess is that the booms and busts the current system inevitably produces will simply continue to grow larger and larger until there comes a denouement that can no longer be 'fixed'.
Following discussions with Merkel, demands to de-escalate tensions from Barrose, and threats of sanctions from President Obama. Ukraine's President Yanukovych has gone on sick leave from "immense pshcological pressure." Despite his exclamations that he'll do everything for the sake of peace, he blames the opposition for "escalating the situation," which fits, rather ominously with warnings from former presdent Leonid Kravchuk. As The BBC reports, Ukraine's first post-independence president warned the country is on the "brink of civil war". While the Hyrvnia is not collapsing as much as it was (always the silver lining), money is running away from Ukraine stocks stuck at 5-year lows, bond term structure is inverted, and CDS are spiking back to recent highs over 1000bps.
And so following yet another Fed taper, coupled with another disappointing manufacturing data point out of China, emerging markets did their thing first thing this morning and all the most unstable EM currency pairs - the TRY, the RUB, the ZAR and the HUF - all plunged promptly in the process pushing down the USDJPY which as become a natural carry offset to EM troubles, only to rebound promptly. Specifically, USDTRY blew out 400 pips to 2.3010 highs after which it bounced, and has now stabilized around 2.27, well above the Turkish central bank intervention level, USDZAR is back down to 11.2120 after hitting five-year highs of 11.3850, the Ruble also plunged after which it jumped on speculation of Russian central bank intervention, while futures are tracking even the tiniest moves by USDJPY and pushing the Emini which is trading in a liquidity vaccum by a quarter point for ever 2 or pips. And with all news overnight shifting from bad to worse (keep an eye on declining German inflation now) it goes without saying, that EM central banks around the world now are desperately trying to keep their currencies under control: which is why the market's jitteryness is only set to increase from here on out.
With all eyes on Russia over the next month as the Sochi Winter Olympics ramps up, we are sure having the market's attention on a collapsing currency is not what Putin had in mind before he dropped $50 billion to make it snow. While the Ruble remains just above record lows against the USD, Bloomberg reports that it has dropped to a record low against the central bank's dollar-euro basket. Russia's finance minister proclaimed today (Erdogan style?) that Bank Rossii should not raise rates (which has been unchanged at 5.5% for the last 15 months). Russian CDS is widening (193bps at 4 month highs) but not cratering like other EM currencies but MICEX (stocks) have had their longest losing streak since April.
As South Africa hiked rates this morning (whose effect on the Rand was promptly overwhelmed by the Lira collapsing back to weaker than pre-rate-hike) stock markets around the world are rapidly deteriorating and the safety of bonds and bullion is being sought aggressively. S&P futures are -10 from pre-Turkey; Dow -100; Nikkei -30; and EEM swung from up over 2% to down almost 1% in the pre-open. Treasuries are 6bps tighter than post-Turkey and gold (and silver) are rallying smartly back up to $1268 (+$20 from post-Turkey lows). It would seem EM turmoil is un-fixed. Turkish stocks are collapsing and the Hungarian Forint is collapsing. We can't help but see the irony of this tumult and the possibility of a global financial meltdown occurring on the day of Bernanke's last FOMC meeting...
The Fed tightens by a little (sorry, tapering - flow - is and always will be tightening): markets soar; Turkey tightens by a lot: markets soar. If only it was that easy everyone would tighten. Only it never is. Which is why as we just reported, the initial euphoria in Turkey is long gone and the Turkish Lira is basically at pre-announcement levels, only now the government has a furious, and loan-challenged population to deal with, not to mention an economy which has just ground to a halt. Anyway, good luck - other EMs already faded, including the ZAR which many are speculating could be the next Turkey, and certainly the USDJPY which sent futures soaring last night, only to fade all gains as well and bring equities down with it.
It would appear the fears of a global bank run are spreading. From HSBC's limiting large cash withdrawals (for your own good) to Lloyds ATMs going down, Bloomberg reports that 'My Bank' - one of Russia's top 200 lenders by assets - has introduced a complete ban on cash withdrawals until next week. While the Ruble has been losing ground rapidly recently, we suspect few have been expecting bank runs in Russia. Russia sovereign CDS had recently weakned to 4-month wides at 192bps.
Backdrops conductive to crises can drag on for so long – sometimes seemingly forever - as if they’re moving in ultra-slow motion. Invariably, they lull most to sleep. Better yet, such environments even work to embolden the optimists. This is especially the case when policy measures are aggressively employed along the way, repeatedly holding the forces of crisis at bay. In the face of mounting risk, heightened risk-taking and leveraging often work only to exacerbate underlying fragilities. But eventually a critical juncture arrives where newfound momentum has things unwinding at a more frenetic pace. It is the nature of such things that most everyone gets caught totally unprepared. Now, Bubbles are faltering right and left - and fearful “money” is heading for the (closing?) exits. And, as the global pool of speculative finance reverses course, the scale of economic maladjustment and financial system impairment begins to come into clearer focus. It’s time for the marketplace to remove the beer goggles.
"The PBOC has not—repeat not—asked Citibank to stop customers from wiring funds. Customers can still log on to their account to put in fund transfer requests at any time. The receiving bank (non-Citibank) will process the funds to be transferred on the next business day, as it always does. Because of the Lunar New Year break, the next business day is Friday Feb. 7. This is no different from the practice of banks throughout the world. Chang's understanding of Chinese culture evidently does not extend to the timing of bank holidays."
As a prelude to the following dismal market update, Japan just posted the largest annual trade deficit ever (ever ever ever) at JPY 11.47 trillion... so much for Abenomics and the magic J-Curve as the year just got worse (not better). With the Nikkei 225 (cash) down over 400 points (as we would have expected given futures action) and back under 15,000; Japanese stocks are at 7-week lows but Japanese credit risk is rapidly accelerating lower at its riskiest in 10-weeks. Japanese government bonds are well bid with yields on the 20Y having dropped to 1.443% - the lowest since April 2013. Away from Japan, the iTraxx Asia index (which tracks credit risk of investment grade corporates) has soared in the last few days to almost 5-month highs. Emerging Market Sovereign CDS are all notably wider with Vietnam and Indonesia topping the relative moves so far (and most at multi-month wides). Chinese repo is stable for now (CDS are wider by 2bps at 7-month wides) but so far, no good, for those believing the contagion in EM FX will remain contained.
So far in 2013, Bank of America lost money on 9 trading days out of a total 188. Statistically, this result is absolutely ridiculous when one considers that the bulk of bank trading revenues are still in the form of prop positions disguised as "flow" trading to evade Volcker which means the only way a bank could make money with near uniform perfection is if it either i) consistently has inside information that it trades on or ii) it consistently front-runs its clients (the latter incidentally was a topic we covered back in 2009 relating to Goldman Sachs, and which the bank sternly rejected). We now know that when it comes to Bank of America at least one of the two happened.
The last time markets scrambled for protection against sovereign defaults was over European country collapse in the summer of 2012 around the time Mario Draghi introduced a non-existent measure to allow Europe's nations to engage in zero reforms while their bond yields plunged. This time it is the emerging markets.
- Argentina +139bps at 2562.07bps, hit highest since Sept.
- Venezuela +81bps at 1398.19bps, highest since 2010
- Turkey +11.6bps at 276.7bps, highest since June 2012
- South Africa +10bps at 236bps, highest since Sept.
Of course, CDS aren't telling us anything (capital-controlled) FX hasn't already made quite clear.