Hank Paulson started the extortion racket. Greek prime ministers practice it weekly. Now Christine Lagarde jumped in too. Taxpayers please step up to the plate. Or else—
Amid the lowest NYSE volume of the year (-24% from Friday - OPEX) and pretty much the lowest non-holiday-period volume in 9 years based on Bloomberg's NYSEVOL data, ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) ended the day almost perfectly unchanged underperforming 5Y investment grade and high-yield credit indices on the day as both moved to contract tights (their best levels since early August last year) even as their curves flattened. There has been lots of chatter about how the steepening of the short-end of the European sovereign bond markets (Italian 2s10s for instance) is a sign that all-is-well in the world again, well unfortunately the flattening of the short-end of US IG and HY credit markets sends a rather less positive signal than headlines might care to admit (as jump risk in the short-term remains 'high' relative to bullish momentum in the medium-term). At the same time, vol markets are showing extreme levels of short-term complacency as 1m VIX is almost at record low levels relative to 3m VIX (and diverging today from implied correlation). Broadly speaking , risk assets rallied into the US day session open only to sell off into the European close (with Sovereigns leaking back the most). The afternoon saw risk rallying as the path of least resistance appears to be up all the time there is no news. Stocks ended well off their highs of the day, in line with broad risk assets, as TSY yields rose 3-4bps higher, Oil and Copper 1.5-1.75% higher (outperformed) while Silver and Gold hugged USD weakness at around a 0.5% gain from Friday's close.
So… are stock investors smarter than everyone else… or are they just gunning the market on low volume yet again regardless of reality? We’ll find out this week once we get past the Fed FOMC and Europe’s decision on Greece.
As we wait for more IIF announcements about the Greek Private Sector Involvement (PSI), Greek CDS remains bid above 60 points up front. For a contract that is about to be "worthless", this seems to have a lot of value. Why would Greek CDS still be so well bid? Whether it is stubbornness, stupidity, or more simply a reality check on the IIF's negotiating power (just how many bonds do they speak for?) and the future unsustainability of Greek debt anyway, it seems that an impressive immediate exchange of all Greek debt with at least a 50% notional reduction, 30 year maturity, and low coupon is pretty well priced in (away from actual Greek bonds that is). Anything less is likely to disappoint the market as the realization that nothing is fixed sinks in, and that this may not even take near term "hard default" off the table (this PSI is a default no matter how it is spun even if it isn't a Credit Event).
As comparisons between US and European debt to GDP levels and the finger-pointing of who is deleveraging more continues, McKinsey notes (in their quarterly Debt and Deleveraging article) that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the US as private-sector deleveraging has been rapid since 2008. However, reading on a little, we find that the light at the end of the tunnel may well be the front of the oncoming train of financial distress as some two-thirds of the 4% ($584bn) in US household debt deleveraging is from defaults on home-loans (and other consumer debt). Of course, with homebuilder stock prices surging (notably rather dramatically relative to lumber or ABS/CMBS), consensus has once again agreed that the bottom in housing is in. McKinsey's initial forecast that the pent-up foreclosures and implicit deleveraging will bring us back to trend by 2013 seems like a pipe-dream and we tend to agree with their more conservative perspective that reversion in household debt will not be to trend but to pre-credit-bubble levels, implying a 22% further reduction (or a couple more trillion dollars of defaults).
Stocks usually follow the Fed, but this time when the ECB pumped, so much of it flowed into the US that not only Treasuries, but also stocks, got a lift.
As the name implies. What is funny is how only after the advent of the Federal Reserve in 1913 did Financial crises expose increasingly more of world GDP to a crisis state. But at least the Fed and ECB tell us all they do is enforce price stabeeletee. Could they be lying!? We thought it was all the gold standard's fault for causing unprecedented economic volatility... Guess not. From History Shots: "The giant wave in the top section of the graphic depicts the percentage of world GDP by region in crisis during the 200 year period. It includes the four major financial crisis types (sovereign default, banking, currency, and inflation) along with stock market crashes. The bottom section provides a detailed chart of all sovereign defaults by country, region and year. It shows the repeating nature of sovereign default, a central theme of Reinhart and Rogoff's book."
The CDS index market remains one of the most liquid sources of hedges and positioning available (despite occasional waxing and waning in volumes) and is often used by us as indications of relative flows and sophisticated investor risk appetite. However, as Kamakura Corporation has so diligently quantified, the broad CDS market (specifically including single-names) remains massively concentrated. This concentration, evidenced by the Honolulu-based credit guru's findings that three institutions: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank National Association, have market shares in excess of 19% each has shown little to no reduction (i.e. the market remains as closed as ever) and they warn that this dramatically increases the probability of collusion and monopoly pricing power. We have long argued that the CDS market is valuable (and outright bans are non-sensical and will end badly) as it offers a more liquid (than bonds) market to express a view or more simply hedge efficiently. However, we do feel strongly that CDS (indices especially) should be exchange traded (more straightforward than ever given standardization, electronic trading increases, and clearing) and perhaps Kamakura's work here will be enough to force regulators and the DoJ to finally turn over the rock (as they did in Libor and Muni markets) and do what should have been done in late 2008 when the banks had little to no chips to bargain with on keeping their high margin CDS trading desks in house (though the exchanges would also obviously have to step up to the plate unlike in 2008).
Lots of questions, and answers, from UBS in this Q&A on the Greek default/restructuring, much of it already covered previously, but the only one that matters is this: "Would the restructuring make the Greek situation sustainable? No. Sorry, but no is the answer. Even with full repudiation of the Greek debt, the situation would not be sustainable. In that event, the deficit would move to the primary balance, 5-6% last year. Not sustainable. And the current account deficit would be in the high single digits. Not sustainable either." So you're telling me there's a chance?
But wait, we thought Greece and the ECB had an upper hand? Wouldn't they exercise said upper hand by now, considering its now 9pm in Greece on a Sunday, the day before the critical European finmin meeting by which point the Greek deal was supposed to be in place?
Yesterday, Reuters' blogger Felix Salmon in a well-written if somewhat verbose essay, makes the argument that "Greece has the upper hand" in its ongoing negotiations with the ad hoc and official group of creditors. It would be a great analysis if it wasn't for one minor detail. It is wrong. And while that in itself is hardly newsworthy, the fact that, as usual, its conclusion is built upon others' primary research and analysis, including that of the Wall Street Journal, merely reinforces the fact that there is little understanding in the mainstream media of what is actually going on behind the scenes in the Greek negotiations, and thus a comprehension of how prepack (for now) bankruptcy processes operate. Furthermore, since the Greek "case study" will have dramatic implications for not only other instances of sovereign default, many of which are already lining up especially in Europe, but for the sovereign bond market in general, this may be a good time to explain why not only does Greece not have the upper hand, but why an adverse outcome from the 11th hour discussions between the IIF, the ad hoc creditors, Greece, and the Troika, would have monumental consequences for the entire bond market in general.
We were not at all surprised to learn this morning that not only has an agreement not been met ahead of Monday's critical Eurozone FinMin meeting (the first of many for 2012) in Brussels, but talks have "stalled". Dow Jones reports: "Talks between Greece and its private sector creditors over a debt writedown plan appeared to stall Saturday as the banks' top negotiator left Athens amid signs of fresh disagreements over how much Greece would pay its bondholders in the future. Officials close to the talks said they may not conclude before a meeting Monday of euro-zone finance ministers where a second bailout which will keep Greece from defaulting is supposed to be discussed. Without a deal on the write-down of the debt held in private hands, the loan can't be released. Institute of International Finance chief Charles Dallara, who has been negotiating with Greek officials on the bond swap plan for the last two days, left Athens Saturday as hurdles remained over the interest rate the new bonds would pay private sector creditors. "Right now there are no talks. There will be consultations with the EU and the IMF to determine where we stand and then we'll see. It (negotiations) has again become complicated with the new demands over the coupon," said a person with direct knowledge of the talks." Which is why any statements that Greece, or the ECB, has all the leverage are total rubbish - if Greece wanted to get the deal done over Hedge Funds' dead bodies, it would have. It hasn't. And yes, a forced cram down of UK-indentured Greek bonds is still a possibiliy, but we will shortly make all too clear that should Greece proceed with this last ditch scorched earth approach, it would mean a complete overhaul of the entire PIIGS bond market, and why a sell off in €800 billion of it would be imminent.
When Morgan Stanley now agrees with most of what Zero Hedge has been saying (especially when it earlier announced that a short covering rally in the EURUSD is imminent, as we have been warning for the past two weeks), it may be time to get concerned. From Morgan Stanley: "Most investors I speak with concur with the view that growth is likely to be below trend for the next several years thanks to deleveraging and a more stringent regulatory environment. However, there is quite a bit of excitement over the probability of QE3 being implemented at some point during 2Q. Exhibit 5 shows just how excited stock investors seem to be getting over this prospect, especially in relation to their fixed income peers. But, this is almost always the case when animal spirits get going. The last time I pointed out such a divergence (October of last year), the SPX had a swift 10% correction over the proceeding 3 weeks. I have no idea whether we are likely to get such a correctly immediately, but I sure can’t rule it out and I am pretty confident you won’t be able to get out of the way unscathed. Just another reason for why I want to be paired off right now." Also, this time will never be different: "Didn’t we learn anything from the Japanese experience of the past 20 years! I might be more on board with the program if I thought we were making real progress on the things that matter for sustainable organic growth. Unfortunately, I just don’t see it."
The only thing that is as consistent as Marc Faber's message to get out of government bonds ahead of a bout of global hyperinflation which will arrive once the vicious cycle of printing to pay interest finally dawns (which in turn would happen once central planners lose control of an artificially created situation, which by definition, always eventually happens), is the passion with which he repeats it over... and over... and over, like a man possessed, if ultimately 100% correct. In an interview with Bloomberg's Sara Eisen and Erik Schatzker this morning, he does what he does best - cuts to the chase: "if you think it through and you are as bearish as I am, and you think the whole financial system will one day collapse, we don't know if in 3 years, or 5 years, or 10 years, but one day there will be a reset, and everything will be essentially started anew, then you are better off in equities than in government bonds, because a lot of government bonds will either default or they will have to print so much money that the purchasing power of money will depreciate very rapidly." When asked if he feels uncomfortable predicting a calamity in bonds again, as he did back 2009, Faber is laconically empathic: "it is true that last year the 30 year bond returned 30%, and i owe David Rosenberg a bottle of whiskey" but analogizes: "from August 1999 to March 2000, the Nasdaq doubled, but at no time in that timeframe was it a good buy. And after it people lost a lot of money. We have now a symptom of monetary inflation and this is record corporate profits, and the second symptoms is essentially a bubble in high quality bonds: people seem so insecure and so much worried, they would rather be in a US bond with no yield, than in bonds that may not repay me, or in equities that may drop 30%. But it does not make them a good buy longer term." Yep: only Faber can get away with calling the bond market the second coming of the Nasdaq bubble and look cool doing it.