Another day, another roller-coaster ride in US equities as every other asset class was relatively well-behaved. We lurched from headline to headline all day long - up on some hope of a 'deal', down on news that nothing was achieved, up on 'progress', down on a revisit in October - but the lurches were much more evident in US equities than in FX, credit, TSYs, PMs, and commodities. These other markets were not dull by any means but did not exhibit the absolute schizophrenic paranoia that equities did and this was critical in getting a handle on trading today as with 30 minutes to go, equities tore back down from Friday's highs to reconnect with several fair-value models across broad risk assets and the credit markets (highlighted in our earlier European close snapshot).
With the FOMC meeting currently in full swing, speculation is rampant what will be announced tomorrow at 2:15 pm, with the market exhibiting its now traditional schizophrenic mood swings of either pricing in QE 6.66, or, alternatively, the apocalypse, with furious speed. And while many are convinced that at least the "Twist" is already guaranteed, as is an IOER cut, per Goldman's "predictions" and possibly something bigger, as per David Rosenberg who thinks that an effective announcement would have to truly shock the market to the upside, the truth is that the Chairman's hands are very much tied. Because, all rhetoric and political posturing aside, at the very bottom it is and has always been a money problem. Specifically, one of "credit money." Which brings us to the topic of this post. When the Fed released its quarterly Z.1 statement last week, the headlines predictably, as they always do, focused primarily on the fluctuations in household net worth (which is nothing but a proxy for the stock market now that housing is a constant drag to net worth) and to a lesser extent, household credit. Yet the one item that is always ignored, is what is by and far the most important data in the Z.1, and what the Fed apparatchiks spend days poring over, namely the update on the liabilities held in the all important shadow banking system. And with the data confirming that the shadow banking system declined by $278 billion in Q2, the most since Q2 2010, it is pretty clear that Bernanke's choice has already been made for him. Because with D.C. in total fiscal stimulus hiatus, in order to offset the continuing collapse in credit at the financial level, the Fed will have no choice but to proceed with not only curve flattening (to the detriment of America's TBTF banks whose stock prices certainly reflect what a complete Twist-induced flattening of the 2s10s implies) but offsetting the ongoing implosion in the all too critical, yet increasingly smaller, shadow banking system. And without credit growth, at either the commercial bank, the shadow bank or the sovereign level, one can kiss GDP growth, and hence employment, and Obama's second term goodbye.
Primary Dealer Treasury Holdings Surge At Fastest Pace Since Summer 2007 Market Peak In Anticipation Of Twisting, Market DumpSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/19/2011 08:29 -0400
Back in the summer of 2007 two important things happened: the market hit an all time high, and the smart money realized what was about to happen (following the subprime and the Bear hedge fund blow up, it was pretty clear to all but Jim Cramer) and bailed out of stocks and into bonds, with Treasury holdings of Primary Dealers soaring at the fastest pace in history. Well according to the Fed, in the past few months Dealer holdings of Treasurys due in more than a year have soared by a whopping $90 billion, from a $75 billion short on May 6 to a $15.1 billion long on September 7. As Bloomberg reminds us, "the last time dealers bought bonds at such a rapid pace was between July 2007 and September 2007, as losses on subprime mortgages began to infect credit markets and the central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates." Also, as noted above, all hell was about to break loose. So what explains this surge in Dealer bond holdings? Well, expectations for said hell breaking loose all over again is one reason, as is the imminent announcement of Twist, QE3+, and who knows what else Bernanke has up his endless sleeve that will make the 2s10s as close to inverted as possible, putting Bank of America permanently out of business. To quote from Bloomberg again, "The problems are endless” for the economy, William O’Donnell, head U.S. government bond strategist at RBS Securities Inc., a primary dealer, said in a Sept. 13 telephone interview. “What will surprise people is how long this period lasts of very, very low rates.” Judging by leading market indications, perhaps people will not be surprised after all.
When it comes to playing the endspiel for Bank of America, there are two binary outcomes: A) either the stock goes to zero in a slow, painful bleed, accompanied by periodic mega squeezes on headlines such as Buffett taking another bath; or B) the stock surges following some substantial government bail out and a quick and painless resolution of the mortgage putback litigation, the robosigning debacle, and somehow the bank finds a way to make money in an environment in which the 2s10s is about to tumble to record lows following the "Torque." As is well known, our personal belief is that all signs point to A) however with limited upside (one can only double their money by shorting) and a constant threat of short squeezes (hence unlimited downside), especially with the stock as depressed as it is and in this massively rigged and centrally planned market, puts a perpetual damper for those who wish to short the name to death. Which brings up an interest tangent: is there a way to profit from the collapse in Bank of America in a mirror image situation, i.e., with unlimited upside and limited downside? The answer is yes, and it very well may be in the form of MBIA, where as we indicate below, the upside may not only unlimited semantically, but practically as well, courtesy of shades of that most epic moves of 2008: that of the short squeeze in Volkswagen stock. Is there a chance that MBIA, with its 27 million short interest, and its 98% long institutional ownership could be the next Volkswagen? Perhaps. Read on.
Anyone who may have been harboring doubts that the Fed will pull yet another economically destructive policy out of its bag of genocidal tricks on September 21 can now relax. Jon Hilsenrath has spoken, and while we don't know just what form QE3 will take place (as a reminder any form of duration extension, and hence, artificial risk shit can be reduced to the broad definition of Quantitative, or otherwise, easing), he does give us a menu of three options: i) Operation Twist, as first discussed by Zero Hedge back in May, ii) a reduction in the Interest on Overnight Excess Reserves (IOER) from 0.25% to something... lower, a move that would wreak havoc and completely destabilize money markets, and iii) more jawboning - a step the would merely make existing promises, such as the ZIRP through mid-2013 even less effective. Bottom line: like it or not, in two weeks we all do the twist.
While it is all too clear that a year from today, right about the time QE4 is gearing up for deployment, QE3 will have had absolutely no impact on the economy (in the upside case; the downside case would imply millions in job losses primarily in the financial sector courtesy of record low 2s10s and even lower Net Interest Margins, aka Carry Trades), just as QE2 ended up doing nothing not only for the US economy but for the stock market as well, what is somewhat disturbing is that the only primary purpose of Operation Twist, namely the lowering of 10 Year bond yields in order to make consumers "weathier" through cheaper refis, has already failed. Presenting Evidence A: 10 Year Treasury Yields (inverted axis where lower yields are plotted higher) and the MBA Refi Index, which today dropped by 6.3%, the third week in a row, sending the Refi index to 3169.4 from 3915.5 in the beginning of August. As the chart makes all too obvious, the correlation between the two series has been as close to 1 as possible... at least until talk of QE3 via Operation Twist not only picked up but was made virtual fact through Wall Street's wholehearted acceptance of more monetary easing. What has happened recently is a substantial break between dropping yields and increasing refinancings. It thus begs the question: if an ever flatter 2s10s curve, the explicit objective of Op Twist which has gotten priced in in the past several weeks, has no impact on the housing market currently languishing in a historic depression, then just why is the Fed focusing on lowering long bond yields even more?
Charting SOMA Twist: Here Is What The $55 Billion In Monthly POMO Purchases Will Look Like Starting ShortlySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/06/2011 13:32 -0400
For anyone still confused what Operation Twist is (covered here first about 4 months ago), here is SocGen's Aneta Markovska, charting just what the flawed duration extension will look like (as a reminder, unless the 2s10s is steepened, and at that substantially, we may as well bury the banks: nobody is taking on new mortgages now regardless of where the 10 year is, just look at weekly MBA numbers. However, to make sure the US banking system expires, just flatten the curve completely, and it is game over for NIM). In a nutshell, SocGen believes that the Fed will dump $420 billion worth of 1.5-4 year USTs and use them to purchase bonds with a maturity longer than 4 years - ideally, this would be 20 Years (yes, they would need to be reinstated, and this is our view, not SocGen's) and 30 Years, and sell the 10 years. But since the Fed has zero practical world experience, one can only hope, knowing full well the end result will be yet another TARP to bail out the banks. From SocGen: "The next step from the Fed will almost certainly be for more easing and it will almost certainly be duration extension. The only question is September or November? Prior to the August employment report, the market was split 50/50 on the timing of the announcement. The report pushed the odds in favour of September which is our central scenario.We estimate that at the upper limit, the extension could amount to as much as $420bn in duration purchases, which would make it comparable in size to QE2. However, the Fed may not announce the full amount up front but instead give a monthly run rate and reevaluate at each meeting. Matching the previous run rate, we would expect the Fed to do roughly $55bn per month. This could take the Fed as far as April 2012, at which point inflation should have receded enough to put QE3 back on the table." We are not too sure just who will buy the 1.5-4 year bonds at current yields, but certainly some greater fool than us does and always will exist. What is important, is that dry powder for about $55 billion in POMO recycling will suddenly allow the banks to flip assets to greater fools yet again. As to whether this will work, like last year, we very much doubt it, especially since everyone will be buying gold and crude.
Forget The Twist, Here Comes Operation Torque: Presenting Morgan Stanley's Complete Moral Hazard Profit GuideSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/01/2011 11:57 -0400
While we often pick on Morgan Stanley's Jim Caron (the same guy who year after year after year keeps predicting the yield on the 10 year will soar, and not just soar, but soar for all the wrong reasons, such as bull steepening and what not), has just diametrically changed his tune, by bringing us, drumroll please, Operation Torque. To wit: "Policy makers in both the US and Europe get back to work in September, and this month will be rife with deliberations on stimulus and market support policies. In our view, a duration extension to the Fed's SOMA portfolio is an optimal policy tool to engender easing. This can initially be done through extending the duration of reinvestments from MBS and agency holdings but may ultimately culminate in selling shorter-duration USTs in its SOMA portfolio in exchange for buying longer duration assets (‘Operation Torque’, as we at Morgan Stanley have dubbed it)." Why 2 Years? Because as per the August 9 FOMC statement, we know that there will no rate hike for the next 2 Years, and hence no duration risk. Which means that the Fed can sell an infinite amount of paper into a mid-2013 horizon without worrying about demand destruction. And by doing so it will, as we have been predicting since May, expand the duration of its portfolio, in the process pushing investors into risky assets for the third time in as many years. But there is a twist...
Over the past x months, one thing has become all too clear in FX land: the EURUSD must stay rangebound between 1.40 and 1.50, even though as Goldman's John Noyce presents in his latest "not-for-retail" packet, the fair value of the European currency continues to be higher than where it should be. Whether this is a simple case of the tail wagging the dog, whereby the ECB and China are terrified of the downstream effects should the European currency trade under the psychological barrier of 1.40, is unclear. What is clear is that every country in the world has skin in the game, and is forced to keep the EUR in Goldilock rangebound territory: not too low to spook European investors, and not too high to accelerate the German double dip. Some other risk assets correlations observed include the AUD vs 2 year swap spread basket, the VIX vs the S&P, and lastly, on the until recently massively overstretched CHF. Noyce tops it off with some technical perspectives on US govvies and the 2s10s, which is once again diving, although unclear if due to a bullish or bearish flattening.
The Buffett bandaid move, coming 48 hours after Buffett's conversations with Obama, and which also comes oddly enough just 24 hours before Bernanke was expected to announce QE3, succeeds in temporarily sending the stock back to early August levels. It also succeeds in sending the financial sector higher, which as we explained yesterday is the main reason for why the 2s10s had to be steepened, so as a result Operation Twist now can go back to its original formulation of broad 2s30s flattening and result in purchases of bonds across the board. As for what to expect with this surprising move out of Omaha? Absolutely nothing. The $5 billion in cash, unlike Buffett's investment in Goldman, will be laughably insufficient, considering that the bank's mortgage exposure is in the tens of billions, while its litigation liability is another $20-30 billion. This does nothing to change our thesis that BAC will need to come to the market again and again to raise capital. However, as this "raise" confirmed, BAC only has access to private investments: we hope Buffett has very deep pockets to keep doubling down. The other news to come out of this - Paulson will be saved with another deus ex machina and will not need to sell his gold or GLD holdings, removing the liquidation overhang from spot gold. The only good news out of all of this: the taxpayer bailout of Bank of America, when it comes, will be $5 billion less.
Charting The Biggest Structural Problem For US Banks, And What The Market Expects From Jackson Hole, Version N+1Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/24/2011 21:05 -0400
Sometimes the general public can get confused in attempting to explain the complexities and the inefficiency of the banking sector when one simple chart brings the message home. A chart like that comes from the latest "Eye on the Market" from JPM's Michael Cembalest, who compares total bank deposits ($8.4 trillion), or bank liabilities, and total bank loan (about $2 trillion less) assets, or sources of cash flows that are supposed to fund bank liabilities and generate retained earnings, while the bank performs credit, maturity and risk transformation: a bank's three key functions. As the chart below shows, perhaps the primary reason why the economy is in its current deplorable state, is that instead of lending dollar for dollar to catch up with deposit growth, banks now rely on roughly $1.7 trillion in excess reserves with the Fed, an amount roughly equal to the difference between total deposits and loans, to plug the credibility gap. This also explains why according to Cembalest one of the expectations by the market from Jackson Hole is that IOER will be cut to 0% to promote bank lending, and thus the conversion of reserves into loans (something which the inflationistas out there will tell you is a big risk to a sudden surge in out of control inflation). So how does the Fed's direct intervention in bank balance sheets look like? Here it is.
Operation Twist Expectations (or LSAD) Returning With A Vengeance Explains Today's Moves In Stocks And GoldSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/24/2011 15:46 -0400
Whether the Fed will upgrade QE2.5, or "ZIRP through mid-2013", to QE3, or Operation Twist, the form we have been predicting it would take since May, is still unknown: very few people know what Bernanke will say on Friday, minutes after the first revision to Q2 GDP reveals a sub-1% number. What is known is that while cross-asset correlation has soared over the past few days, the biggest driver of stocks over the past few days has been nothing but the 2s10s30s butterfly, which in turn is driven by On and Off rumblings of Bernanke doing the Twist. And here is the rub: when the Fed announces Twist it will be extending duration, it effectively means selling everything 10 Year and older (yes, QE3 could very well be LSAD or Large Scale Asset Dumping instead of LSAP). The goal of this action: make the 2s10s will go vertical and to pancake the 10s30s: a move that the butterfly is now indicating it is once again pricing in - today alone we have seen a massive 15 steepening in the butterfly: a nearly 20% move in the curve. It also explains why gold is being sold off today, because simplistic investors believe that without an actual balance sheet expansion, the Fed will not be diluting paper. Completely wrong: it will merely do so synthetically, from a duration basis. Furthermore, the market will very soon read through the Fed's intention which will be predicated entirely on asset rotation and not on incremental fiat capital. The final outcome will be QE4 where the Fed will have to match the synthetic duration extension with actual cash bond deliverables, namely monetizing bonds, a move which will be even more critical once the deficit spend starts soaring again in the next 3 months. And when it does, it will have to do so double time, to make up not only for previous synthetic exposure extension, but for future priced in moves. In other words, nothing has changed, and we fully expect stocks to soar if indeed Bernanke mentions "duration extension", together with yet another gold dump. The issue is that Op Twist in the proposed format would be physically limited by the amount of 10 Year+ bonds held in the Fed's SOMA. At last check it was not that many at all. So any surge in stocks will be albeit both painfully transitory.
Listening to David Greenlaw and/or Jim Caron as they strike out again, and again, and again, with delusions of economic grandure over US GDP and some historic 2s10s bull steepener which is never, ever coming, one would be left with the impression that Morgan Stanley has inherited the title of most permabullish sell side advisory from Deutsche Bank's economics department. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like any other bank, MS has perfectly hedged its rosy outlook by spoonfeeding its retail clients with the rosy view, while whispering the apocalypse case to its institutional clients (judging by last week's pummeling in MS stock, there is not that many of them left). Below we present the view of MS' equity strategy team under Adam Parker, who gives not only a distribution range for his year end S&P target (1004-1425), but a matrix specifying the probability outcome of either case. Bottom line, "while there is 18% upside to the year-end bull case and 16% downside to the year-end bear case, we assign a higher probability to our bear case than bull case, preventing us from becoming increasingly optimistic." When even Morgan Stanley tells you (or rather the whale clients who are now more than happy to sell into every low volume, retail driven rally) there is little to smile about, it is high time to look for the exits.
What Zero Hedge has been saying for well over half a year has finally hit the mainstream, with pundit after pundit "suddenly" coming out of the closet and making the uber-bold proclamation that "QE3 is here." Yawn. That said, since Goldman's opinion is the only one that matters (see previous posts on this matter, especially those referencing the activities of one Bill Dudley at one "Pound and Pence"), here is Jan Hatzius explaining how the whole world now looks up to Bernanke to pick up the QE torch lit up in the past week by the SNB, the BOJ and the ECB, and take Central PlanningTM to escape velocity (which may well be needed if we hope to get Mars to bail out the Earth shortly). Specifically, when discussing what the Fed will announce on Tuesday, naturally follows Monday, or the day in which risk comes home to roost, Hatzius says the following: "First, we expect them to expand the scope of their “extended period” language to cover not just the exceptionally low funds rate but also the exceptionally large balance sheet. For example, they could rewrite the current forward-looking language in the statement to say that economic conditions “…are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate and exceptionally large asset holdings for an extended period” (our suggested change in italics). Indeed, our baseline expectation is that this change will occur at the August 9 FOMC meeting, although it is a relatively close call. Second, we expect the composition of the Fed’s balance sheet to shift toward longer maturities. This could happen via an increase in the average maturity of its reinvestment of MBS paydowns and/or a change in the reinvestment policy for its Treasury portfolio. However, we do not yet expect this for the August 9 meeting, although it is possible." Operation Twist 2 it is then, with unlimited purchases in the 2-7 year range to keep the yield at a sturdy 0%, and the 2s10s to surge record highs (alas, QE3 means inflation, inflation, inflation down the line) in a last ditch attempt to bailout America's financial system, which unfortunately has just entered wind-down mode.
The worst possible news for financials, which basically never managed to tick higher in all of 2011, is now here as the entire Treasury curve has virtually pancaked today, making sure that the perfect storm for banks is here, with nobody trading (no sales revenue), prop trading dismantled (no trading revenue), and no lending revenue soon either (2s10s heading to 0%). The closed loop will send even more money into the 10 and 30 Year, causing even more pain for banks, and so on ad inf until Bernanke relents. And you can be certain that the CEOs of the TBTFs are on the phone with the New York Fed as we speak. Luckily, the next FOMC meeting is August 9 which means the market will only have to deal with this non QE3 uncertainty for a few days. Naturally when QE3 is announced, gold will promptly leave $2000 in the rearview mirror.