Two days ago we made a simple observation: back in September 2011, Weinstein's firm SABA Capital hired one of the key JPMorgan prop traders - Maitland Hudson - who "ran JPMorgan’s proprietary trading of derivatives tied to commercial-mortgage bonds" and whose future job at Saba would "focus on relative value trades" - such as, perhaps, IG9 10 Year versus a basket of tranched trades... Our suggestion was that instead of being a brilliant credit trader as he has been called by Bill Ackman, and his antics while in charge of the DB prop desk certainly put theory in jeopardy, perhaps Weinstein is merely a wonderful headhunter: one who knows just whom to hire and when (kinda like Steve Cohen hiring key Pharmaceutical company R&D personnel in a perfectly legal transaction now that expert networks are done, but that is a topic for another day).
Depending on whether you look at broad liquid risk markets or narrow manipulated 'repressed' illiquid markets, your take on today's European action will be different. Equity markets were crushed. Corporate and Financial credit spreads blew wider. Volatility (Europe's VIX) exploded over 36%. So far so good? But Italian and Spanish bonds rallied. It seems EUR96 was the line in the sand that the ECB (or their proxy banks) decided was enough for Spanish 10Y bonds and that was where they were defended to (though we are suspicious why ECB would step in now after 4 months absence). There was eventually some notable divergence between underperforming Spain and outperforming Italy by the close (+40bps on the week vs +27bps). We suspect that much of the sovereign outperformance was a combination of Sovereign CDS-Bond basis traders (buying bonds and buying protection in Spain to lock in that wide spread) and a replay of the short financial credit, long domestic sovereign credit trade (as in banks will underperform the sovereign if things hit the fan/wall). That is the flow that was evident when looked at across markets. All in all, a terrible end to an awful week and hopefully we have helped explain why sovereigns outperformed (technicals) as CDS remain at wides and stocks at lows.
As we predicted some time ago, it would be only a matter of time before the story of how one failed prop desk trader, in this case Boaz Weinstein who blew up DB Prop only to be resurrected as the successful head of Saba Capital, took down the London whale Bruno Iksil. Sure enough over the weekend, the NYT penned a largely one-sided if entertaining read: "The Hunch, the Pounce and the Kill" which begins as follows 'It was last November, and Mr. Weinstein, a wunderkind of the New York hedge fund world, had spied something strange across the Atlantic. In an obscure corner of the financial markets, prices seemed out of whack. It didn’t make sense. Mr. Weinstein pounced." The trade of course was the IG 9 -10 year which we have dissected infinitely in the past two days. And while the NYT story makes for great copy, and has a great narrative it is missing one crucial feature, namely what happened in those two crucial months before Boaz was pitching the IG9 trade, and thus during which he was establishing the position (because only those "hedge fund managers" who appear on CNBC discuss their positions if they haven't already built up their max positions). What happened is the following: "Saba Capital Management LP... hired Toby Maitland Hudson from JPMorgan Chase & Co. as the firm’s assets reach $4.1 billion, according to people familiar with the hire. Maitland Hudson, who started at Saba in New York last month, ran JPMorgan’s proprietary trading of derivatives tied to commercial-mortgage bonds and will focus on relative value trades."
Remember when Jamie Dimon told the world the CIO stories were a "tempest in a teapot" during the firm's Q1 conference call the very same day we accused the CIO of being the world's biggest prop desk (aside from the Fed of course) and that the JP Morgan was merely "hedging" its positions? It appears that just like Vegas, it's the lie that keeps on giving. Because as it turns out in addition to being a massive undisclosed loss leader courtesy of 'unlimited downside' CDS pair trades (anyone remember DB employee Boaz Weinstein?) which have yet to be unwound, and which may have a total book loss of up to or over $31.5 billion as explained before, that was merely the tip of the prop-trading iceberg. The WSJ reports: "The JPM unit whose wrong-way bets on corporate credit cost the bank more than $2 billion includes a group that has invested in financially challenged companies, including LightSquared Inc., the wireless broadband provider that this month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The group within the CIO doing the distressed equity investing is known as the Special Investments Group. Whether it should be part of the CIO in the future is something that Matt Zames, who was put in charge of the CIO this month after the losses were disclosed, is evaluating, according to a person familiar with the bank. He is also examining whether the bank should keep some of these investments, the person said... The Special Investments Group last year took a $150 million stake in closely held LightSquared, in a deal that J.P. Morgan lost money on, according to a person familiar with the bank." But, but, surely they were hedging their offsetting position in er, uhm, non-satellite, telegraph stocks? In yet other words, an SIO within the CIO... once again Wall Street's only value added shines through - baffle them with acronym-based bullshit. And of course, everyone is busy hedging, hedging, the firm's other positions... Or not: as these are pure play directional prop bets. And all are funded by, you guessed it, your deposit dollars. Which one day will go boom, when JPM suffers a loss so large that not even the Fed bails them out any more (Jon Corzine anyone?).
Update: not so fast: Bloomberg reports that the whale is still beached: JPMorgan Chase Still Employs Trader Bruno Iksil, Spokesman Says. So... pile into the IG9 trade still?
Yesterday we speculated that the final confirmation that JPM has unwound its disastrous skew trade will only came once Bruno Iksil joins all the other members of the CIO team in being involuntarily retired: "As for the question of how much additional P&L loss JPM has sustained from Friday through today is a different matter entirely, and we are confident the next announcement from JPM will come momentarily, coupled with the announcement that Bruno Iksil, the last remnant of the CIO desk, and now having completed his duty of unwinding the trade that brought so much pain for Jamie Dimon, has been retired." Sure enough, the NYT reports that Iksil is now history.
It would seem, just as during the crisis in 2008/9, that now might be an opportune time to push for 'improvement' in how banks are regulated (and more importantly how the instruments they trade in colossal size are priced and marked-to-market). Rick Santelli believes now has never been a better time but as his guest Tim Backshall of Capital Context notes, regulation of the CDS market can be summed up in one sentence "Get Them On Exchange". Something we have been saying for years (and has been tried before) but with dealers holding all the keys (to market-making) and exchanges cowering for fear of losing clients, we remain less optimistic. Santelli and Backshall critically address the complicity of banks, regulators, analysts, and The Fed in giving 'banks the benefit of the doubt' with regard their use of the bottomless pit of capital they implicitly have but what is more important is for the hordes of sell-side analysts and buy-side sheeple to understand just what this JPM debacle exposes about bank risk (VaR is useless), bank transparency (mark-to-model or worse is widespread), and bank valuation (traditional Price/Book metrics have no merit anymore).
We have presented our opinion on the JPM prop trading desk repeatedly, in fact starting about a month ago. Last night, Senator Carl "Shitty Deal" Levin also decided to join the fray, which is to be expected: the man needs air time. And now, in a surprising twist, competing banks, all of whom have more than enough skeletons in their own prop desk trading closet, are starting to speak up against the bank that should not be named. Enter Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid and his take on the Fail Whale.
Remember how prohibiting the use of naked sovereign CDS was supposed to make the CDS market tame as a docile lamb? Well, as it turns out, the bulk of the marginal moves were not CDS driven, but simply basis traders putting on, and taking off hedges. Ignoring the fact that many desks have experienced "Boaz Weinstein" like events in the past month (perhaps even Mr. Basis "$4.7 billion AUM" Trade himself), it seems that CDS is now simply tracking moves in cash. And those moves, if you are France, are not pretty. As the chart below shows, French CDS have just hit 88 MPH and are about to go back to a calmer, more peacful time, when everyone could buy and sell stuff using the French Franc...
We have been discussing US (and European) financial risk for some time (especially recently with regard MS exposure to French banks). Since we published that article, we have seen incredible shifts in MS CDS and bonds even as stocks appear to shrug of some of the reality of the situation. An excellent article on Bloomberg last evening pointed out that not only was MS CDS at rather extreme levels, it was quietly as risky (if not more so) than many of the European banks that are making the headlines. Not only is MS CDS its highest since its spike highs in Q4 2008, the curve is inverted with 1Y risk trading 500/550 against 5Y risk at 455/470 which strongly suggests jump risk (or counterparty risk) is being aggressively hedged. With over $4.5bn of debt maturing in Q4 (which we have been pointing out for months - TLGP issues) and the increasingly binary nature of any outcomes, it seems the only real buyer of any MS debt are basis traders as the difference between bond spreads and CDS has halved in the last few weeks.
The2s10s has plumbed fresh new lows: - the most levered trade in the history of the world (the curve steepener for the uninitiated) is now the most abhorred. The amount of neg P&L incurred here over the past 2 months is just staggering. After hitting an all time of 290 in March, the 2s10s has collapsed by over 20% in the last three months. And as the leverage associated with this trade is second to none, the impact of this collapse is magnified hundreds of times, not to mention that the money banks charge for mortgages (if anyone wanted these to begin with) and credit cards is marginally so much lower that Q2 and certainly Q3 bank profitability will be very badly impaired. Which is why we were eagerly anticipating the one firm which has been the biggest defendant of the steepener trade to come out with its "double or nothing" all-in on the economic rebound which is critical for this bearish flattening to terminate. Today, we got our wish. As expected, Morgan Stanley's Jim Caron throws the kitchen sink into the bull case, and this time also pitches the "no fat tails" trade - the same trade that worked miracles for Boaz Weinstein and Merrill Lynch. Alas, with MS clients sick and tired of losing money, almost as much as Goldman's FX clients, this could be too little too late. Furthermore, with trite claims such as "no ‘double-dip’, We expect growth in China to slow but expect a soft landing, No deflation in 2H10, Policy rates to remain lower for longer, Europe to muddle along, and solvency risks in 2H10 overstated" it may be difficult for MS to find the last standing greatest fool out there. As for pitching the "Iron Butterfly" to said fool, good luck. But it sure sounds cool.
Yesterday, I sat through a conference sponsored by Andrew Schneider’s Hedgeco.net on starting and marketing hedge funds. As I sat through the various presentations focusing on transparency, performance results, etc., I though to myself, ” You know Reg, you probably rank in the top echelon of these guys in terms of absolute performance, and in terms of transparency you actually publish what you do on the web for all to see.
The trade that just keeps on giving, the EURJPY-ES decoupling is once again making its daily appearance. For the one trade that consistently closes its intraday "decoupling" day after day, here is your daily chance to rake in some easy money courtesy of the ongoing margin calls at corr desks who are too busy unwinding BP to care about this guaranteed (yes, yes) arb. And, yes, 10 pts is obviously relative: for those anal enough to index this trade, feel free to do so, you will get the same result. All joking aside, this divergence has been happening way too often in the past week, which we really can only attribute to the massive pain happening behind the scenes in BP and the drillers (RIG down 36% in last 20 days now). Buy EURJPY, Sell ES (September vintage), pick several easy bps, sit back and enjoy 4 out of 4.
Carry Traders Getting Carry'ed Out Feet First, All Who Followed Goldman's BZL Trade Reco Now Taken To The WoodshedSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/04/2010 10:42 -0500
All carry trade pairs (and the traders who still have these on) are getting the Friend-O treatment today. Whether the funding currency is the dollar ot the yen, the need to convert paper losses into real ones will likely hit the stops today causing a rush for the exits (if it hasn't happened already). At this point you can take Goldman's ever optimistic double down on the BZL trade and use it for toilet paper. One wonders if Lloyd wouldn't be happier not having a prop desk on days like today. Incidentally, both Deutsche Bank and Citi are actively eliminating their prop trading desks. Deutsche Bank earlier announced that "the bank has eliminated its proprietary credit trading business and reduced proprietary trading in equity and equity derivatives by 90 percent, Ackermann said in remarks prepared for the bank's annual results media conference on Thursday." Thank you Boaz Weinstein. In other news, Citi prop traders Matthew Newton and Matthew Carpenter has just bailed, seeing the writing on the wall.
In the past Zero Hedge had respect for Ten. Senator Bob Corker due to his opposition to the nationalization of the bankrupt automakers and making them yet another ward of the ever larger central-planning state. However, after today's hearing with Paul Volcker on the Prop trading ban, any respect we may have had for the Senator has promptly dissipated. While we understand that the pointless bashing of Volcker's proposal by Corker was predicated by his sizable lobby interest (over $21 million raised in the course of his career) and his talking points were undoubtedly a transliteration of a memorandum submitted by one of the Too Big To Fail banks that stand to experience substantial losses should the Volcker proposal pass, one line of argument in Corker's speech that is flagrantly flawed was Corker's naive rhetorical question whether there has been a single instance during the financial crisis where a commercial bank engaging in proprietary trading led directly to that institution failing or having to be bailed out by the taxpayer. Corker assumed the answer is no and kept pouncing on that answer. Well, Senator, you are wrong - meet Merrill Lynch, incidentally one of your biggest financial backers. Also, please meet Merrill's prop basis trade and its prop HVOL4 trade, which combined were the primary reason for the firm's $15 billion writedown in Q4 of 2008 and the subsequent bail out of the firm by Bank of America.
As Zero Hedge presented previously, the sharp divergence between the Nikkei and the S&P indexed in gold continues. The two reindexed indexes, which have correlated 0.91 since March, have diverged sharply in the past three weeks, and now stand at an over 11% divergence in performance since the year lows. Whether this is due to the "shocking" recent realization that Japan is caught in an ever increasing deflationary vortex (which the US likely will not avoid, at least not in the near term), or simply due to momo quants deciding that the Nikkei is no longer fun to chase, a convergence trade on the two broad indexes (long Nikkei, short S&P) seems like a rather painless way to pick 10%. Then again, ask Boaz Weinstein about "surething" convergence trades.