Mainstream media is desperately scrambling to fill copy with stories of collaboration, rescue, heroism, sacrifice, and altruism among the European leaders. The dismal reality facing real people and real participants is quite different and as Peter Tchir points out "How many 'untruths' have become so accepted that they are now treated as facts or axioms". In an effort to get to the facts and reality, we disentangle Bloomberg's 'Greek Rescue' story and note the increasingly Orwellian nature of the events unfolding across the pond. But anyways, the machine is grinding along towards headlines of "rescue" where Greece will have been "saved" and "default will have been avoided" and it will be "great that banks and politicians worked to save Greece" in spite of the "lingering doubts that Greece will fulfill its obligations".
I am staggered at how easily the concepts of Democracy and the Rule of Law – two of the pillars of the modern world – have been brushed aside in the interests of political expediency. This is not just a eurozone phenomenon but of course the removal of elected governments and the instalment of "insider" technocrats who simply serve the interests of the elite has become a specialisation in Europe. Many will think this kind of development is not a big deal and is instead may be what is needed. Personally I am absolutely certain that the kind of totalitarianism being pushed on us by our leaders will – if allowed to persist and fester – end with consequences which are way beyond anything the printing presses of our central banks could ever hope to contain. Communism failed badly. Why then are we arguably trying to resurrect a version of it, particularly in Europe? Are the banks so powerful that we are all beholden to them and the biggest nonsense of all – that defaults should never happen (unless said defaults are trivial or largely meaningless)?...– So, in terms of markets, be warned. My personal recommendation is to sit in Gold and non-financial high quality corporate credit and blue-chip big cap non-financial global equities. Bond and Currency markets are now so rigged by policy makers that I have no meaningful insights to offer, other than my bubble fears...The end of the bubble will be sign posted by either monetary anarchy creating major real economy inflation or by a deflationary credit collapse (if they run out of pumping "mandates"). The end game is incredibly binary in my view, but in between it is pretty much a random walk. Either way, "bonds are toast" in any secular timeframe (due either to huge inflationary pressures, or due to a deflationary credit collapse), which in turn means that asset bubbles in risky assets will get crushed on a secular basis.
- Germany FinMin: More Talks Needed On 2nd Greece Bailout Plan (MarketNews)
- You stand up to the bankers, you win - Icelandic Anger Bringing Record Debt Relief in Best Crisis Recovery Story (Bloomberg)
- Iranian ships reach Syria, China warns of civil war (Reuters)
- Men's suit bubble pops? Zegna CEO Says China Sales Slowing (WSJ)
- German presidency row shakes Merkel's coalition (Reuters)
- Greece must default if it wants democracy (FT)
- Decision day for second Greek bailout despite financing gaps (Reuters)
- So true fair value is a 30% discount to "market" price? Board of Wynn Resorts Forcibly Buys Out Founder (WSJ)
- Spain Sinks Deeper Into Periphery on Debt Rise (Bloomberg)
- Walmart raises stake in China e-commerce group (FT)
- Iron Lady Merkel Bucks German Street on Greek Aid (Bloomberg)
A lesson to be learnt from the individuals who continue to buy European Debt
For several weeks now we have been warning that while the conventional wisdom is that Europe will never let Greece slide into default, Germany has been quietly preparing for just that. This culminated on Friday when the schism between Merkel, who is of the persuasion that Greece should remain in the Eurozone, and her Finmin, Wolfgang "Dr. Strangle Schauble" Schauble, who isn't, made Goldman Sachs itself observe that there is: "Growing dissent between Chancellor Merkel and finance minister Schäuble regarding Greece." We now learn, courtesy of the Telegraph's Bruno Waterfield, that Germany is far deeper in Greece insolvency preparations than conventional wisdom thought possible (if not Zero Hedge, where we have been actively warning for over two weeks that Germany is perfectly eager and ready to roll the dice on a Greek default). Yet it is not only Germany that is getting ready for the inevitable. So is Greece.
The ethics of debt, at least in the officially sanctioned media, boils down to: nobody made them borrow all those euros, and so their suffering is just desserts. What's lost in this subtext is the responsibility of the lender. Yes, nobody forced Greece to borrow 200 billion euros (or whatever the true total may be), but then nobody forced the lenders to extend the credit in the first place. Consider an individual who is a visibly poor credit risk. He would like to borrow money to blow on consumption and then stiff the lender, but since he cannot create credit, he has to live within his means. Now a lender comes along who can create credit out of thin air (via fractional reserve banking) and offers this poor credit risk $100,000 in collateral-free debt at low rates of interest. Who is responsible for the creation and extension of credit? The borrower or the lender? Answer: the lender. In other words, if the lender is foolish enough to extend huge quantities of credit to a poor credit risk, then it's the lender who should suffer the losses when the borrower defaults. This is the basis of bankruptcy laws--or used to be the basis. When an over-extended borrower defaults, the debt is cleared, the lender takes the loss/writedown, and the borrower loses whatever collateral was pledged. He is left with the basics to carry on: his auto, clothing, his job, and so on. His credit rating is impaired, and it is now his responsibility to earn back a credible credit rating....The potential for loss and actually bearing the consequences from irresponsible extensions of credit was unacceptable to the banking cartel, so they rewrote the laws. Now student loans in America cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court; they are permanent and must be carried and serviced until death. This is the acme of debt-serfdom.
Open Europe has published a briefing note outlining the ten questions and issues that still need to be resolved in the coming weeks in order for Greece to avoid a full and disorderly default on March 20. The briefing argues that, realistically, only a few of these issues are likely to be fully resolved before the deadline meaning that Greece’s future in the euro will come down to one question: whether Germany and other Triple A countries will deem this to be enough political cover to approve the second Greek bailout package. In particular, the briefing argues that recent analyses of Greece’s woes have underplayed the importance of the problems posed by the large amount of funding which needs to be released to ensure the voluntary Greek restructuring can work – almost €94bn – as well as the massive time constraints presented by issues such as getting parliamentary approval for the bailout deal in Germany and Finland. While the eurozone also continues to ignore or side-line questions over the whether a 120% debt-to-GDP ratio in 2020 would be sustainable and if, given the recent riots, Greece has come close to the social and political level of austerity which it can credibly enforce.
"All the options from here are bad, I am afraid" is how MEP Daniel Hannan describes the way forward in Europe in this FOX News interview. In one of the clearest and least status-quo-hugging explanations of what has occurred (gentile and bloodless coups in Italy and Greece), the 'cruel and irresponsible behavior' of European leaders stuns him and all in the name of the 'wretched single-currency'. When asked why they (the EU leaders) just don't get it (channeling Upton Sinclair's now infamous quote), Hannan replies "It is remarkably difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" as he makes it clear that the vested interests in keeping the Euro going (well paid and powerful government jobs for example) means they are prepared to inflict this shocking poverty on the Mediterranean countries. Summing it up nicely: until they leave the Euro, the Greeks have got no light at the end of the tunnel, making the point that Greece's least painful option is to Default, Decouple, and Devalue.
While the rest of the world is conveniently distracted by events in Europe, where conventional wisdom dictates that even an all out default of Greece would be manageable, whatever that means, the smart money in the room - the world's now 21 Primary Dealers (ex MF Global, whose CEO is "almost", but not quite, about to be prosecuted for the theft of billions in client funds) has been quietly bracing for impact in the only way they know - buying up Treasurys. In fact, according to the US Trasury's weekly update, in the most recent week ended February 8, 2012, Primary Dealer Treasury holdings of Dealers surged to an all time high of $102 billion, a whopping increase of $37 billion on the week, which matches only the surges seen during the post end of quarter window dressing discussed extensively before. The driver were exclusively bonds in the "Bills" and "Under 3 Year" category, which rose by $37.7 billion. As a reminder, courtesy of ZIRP through 2014, bonds with a sub-3 Years maturity are the functional, and liquidity equivalent, of Bills - or cash equivalents from a liquidity standpoint, with the added benefit that these are repoable at a moment's notice, to the Fed or anyone else. The last time we have seen such a dramatic increase in Dealer Bill and Coupon concentration was in early 2009 when the world was ending and when Dealers went from zero Bill holdings to tens of billions in Bill holdings overnight. These holdings only declined as QE1 starting to improve risk conditions, and dropped further in the aftermath of QE2. This time, there is no backstop from the Fed, at least no public one. Which means that, for all intents and purposes, Dealers are hunkering down in anticipation of something that affords maximum liquidity yet is not stocks.
While we have done our best to explain what the implications are of the actions of the various parties in the Greek/German/ECB/Euro swap/default/CAC/PSI/Austerity events, it is perhaps worth one more try to address how we see this playing out and exactly what the ECB just did. The weakness in GGBs today along with the rise in the cost of Greek basis packages (a hedged bond trade that looks to profit from a credit event or compression) suggest markets are beginning to wake up to reality but the dead-currency-walking behavior of the EUR (and ES) since last night's close suggests many remain sidelined or have all their chips on the constantly-tilting table. In the end every private holder will write-off 50 percent permanently and those that live in a mark to market world (fewer and fewer live in that world in Europe) probably lose another 20 points or so. CDS will be triggered and we will be told how great it was that Greece avoided a default and that it is an isolated case. Is that scenario priced in?
The equities market is acting like we know Greece's default will be orderly and no threat to financial stability. It is also acting like we know the U.S. economy can grow smartly while Europe contracts in recession. Lastly, the high level of confidence exuded by market participants suggests we know central bank liquidity is endlessly supportive of equities. What do we really know about the coming default of Greece? Whether we openly call it default or play semantic games with "voluntary haircuts," we know bondholders will absorb tremendous losses that are equivalent to default. We also suspect some bondholders will refuse to play nice and accept their voluntary haircuts. Beyond that, how much do we know about how this unprecedented situation will play out?
First comes the CACs. Then the forced debt exchange offer. Finally - default: as defined by both the rating agencies and ISDA, together with triggered CDS.
And just a little bit more on yesterday's story of the day, which a few recent journalist grads took as positive having absolutely no clue about the very basics of a simple restructuring process, and in turn fed it to the 18 year old math Ph.Ds who program FX trading algos that ran away with it in the form of a 150 pip gain, when in reality it was all negative. As the WSJ reports, the only sane person in Europe, did get it: Bundesbank's Jens Weidmann "voted against the proposal, according to a person familiar with the matter." As we expected. Why? Go back to our story on subordination and what it means as the ECB creates an ever more junior class of bond holders. For those who hate long sentences, the WSJ gets it right this time: "The move could rankle investors and turn them away from the peripheral euro zone bond market, blunting the impact of a possible approval of a Greek aid deal and plentiful cash from the ECB." Of course, those who don't react to idiot headlines, and every upticks courtesy of algobots, knew that long ago. But in this stupid market, it takes hours, if not days, for the progressively dumber investor base to comprehend what is going on.
It is no secret to those who follow the daily nuances of global monetary policy that the primary reason for Europe's deplorable fate has little to do with liquidity, and everything to do with an ever diminishing base of money-good assets, which in turn is a solvency problem when run through the cash flow statement and balance sheet. Need an explanation for the ever declining collateral thresholds by the ECB? There it is: assets in Europe are generating ever lower returns, which means that an ever lower inverse LTV has to be applied to them by monetary authorities in order for the asset holder to get some return. And with trillions in incremental cash needs, before all is said and done, the ECB (and various regional central banks, as was discussed last week), will be forced to accept virtually anything that is not nailed down as collateral for 100 cents on par (not amortized) value. Yet while observing the symptom is simple, the diagnosis is much more difficult. In other words, why is Europe's asset base getting progressively worse. Courtesy of Goldman we may have found the answer. As the following chart shows, the average age of assets in years in Europe, has just hit a record high. The implications of this are substantial, and explain so very much about the core problem at the heart of the European quandary.
Bailout somehow seems too nice of a word. It implies working together, giving a helping hand, making a real effort to help someone out. As we read the headlines coming out of Greece for the past 2 weeks, all we can think of is, how do you say “squeal like a pig” in German. The market is happy because it looks like PSI will go through and that in theory will be enough to convince the Troika to send money to Greece, so long as they live by the latest austerity package. That all seems fine, we guess, but looking beneath the headlines, it seems far worse than that.