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FleeceBook: Meet JP Morgan's Matt Zames

Previously, in our first two editions of FleeceBook, we focused on "public servants" working for either the Bank of International Settlements, or the Bank of England (doing all they can to generate returns for private shareholders, especially those of financial firms). Today, for a change, we shift to the private sector, and specifically a bank situated at the nexus of public and private finance: JP Morgan, which courtesy of its monopolist position at the apex of the Shadow Banking's critical Tri-Party Repo system (consisting of The New York Fed, The Bank of New York, and JP Morgan, of course) has an unparalleled reach (and domination - much to Lehman Brother's humiliation) into not only traditional bank funding conduits, but "shadow" as well. And of all this bank's employees, by far the most interesting, unassuming and "underappreciated" is neither its CEO Jamie Dimon, nor the head of JPM's global commodities group (and individual responsible for conceiving of the Credit Default Swap product) Blythe Masters, but one Matt Zames.

Marc To Market's picture

After out sized moves in the foreign exchange market yesterday, a consolidative tone has emerged with a few exceptions. The big winner yesterday was the euro and with a narrow range of about a third of a cent today, the market seems as if it is catching its breath before assaulting important resistance near $1.33, which capped it in mid-December and at the very start of the new year. Sterling recovered from a test on $1.60 at mid-week, but lagged behind the euro. The pullback today is also more pronounced after the disappointing industrial output figures. Industrial production rose 0.3%, half the recovery the consensus expected after the 0.9% decline in October. The key disappointment was in manufacturing, which contracted 0.3% compared with consensus expectations for a 0.5% gain, following the 1.4% slide in October. The increases concerns that the UK economy slipped back into contraction following expansion in Q3. Support is now seen near $1.6080.

On Draghi's 'Real-World' Incompetence

While the world and their cat believes that Mario Draghi saved the world last year - and continues to do so with his open-ended promise to do "whatever it takes" whatever that means (and the market's "positive contagion"). However, the reality, away from a sovereign-bond implied view of the world - with short-dated Spanish bonds now at 26-month low yields (whereby these bonds are sucked up wholesale by an ever more concentrated and self-satisfying group of European banks) is far different. As these two charts show, not only does Draghi's decision not to lower rates (when inflation and unemployment - both more 'real-world economy'-impacting items) indicate Taylor-Rule-esque that rates need cutting; but while banks get all they want (and more) from his over-flowing cup or collateralization and repo, credit extension in Europe continues to slide ever more negatively. Yes, Draghi saved the banks (for now) but, just as the scariest chart shows, Europe is very far from saved; and for those looking at TARGET-2 imbalances, the risk remains, it has merely shifted to the core.

Phoenix Capital Research's picture

The fiscal cliff situation has made it clear that when it comes to issues such as cutting the deficit and debt, US politicians are totally clueless. Remember, Congress hasn't passed a budget in four years, which incidentally goes a long ways towards explaining why we're about to breach the debt ceiling again.

"It's Starting To Feel A Lot Like 2007"

The credit markets this week already look very different to how they ended last year. As BofAML's Barnaby Martin notes, beta-compression, flatter curves and credit outperformance versus equity have all been abundant themes of late. Relative value is still there, when one looks closely, but is unfortunately not what it used to be. He adds that "things in credit have started to feel a lot like 2007 again," and while he believes the trend is set to continue (though slower) and the liquidity-flooded fundamentals in the high-yield bond market have been holding up well, it is trends in the leveraged loan market, that continue to deteriorate, that are perhaps the only canary in the coal-mine worth watching as global central bank liquidity merely slooshes to the highest spread product in developed markets (until that is exhausted). The rolling 12m bond default rate among European high-yield issuers fell to 1.8% in December, whereas loan default rates rose to 8.5%. With leverage rising, the hope for ever more greater fools continues, even as everyone is forced into the risky assets.

Chart Of The Day: How The Swiss National Bank Went "All In", Three Times And Counting

Think the Fed (with its balance sheet amounting to over 20% of US GDP), or the ECB (at 30% of GDP) is bad? Then take a look at the balance sheet of the Swiss National Bank, whose assets now amount to some 75% of Swiss GDP and which has now "literally bet the bank" in the words of the WSJ not once, not twice, but three times in a bid to keep the Swiss Franc - that default flight to safety haven - low, and engaging in what is semi-stealth currency warfare by buying other sovereigns' currencies for over two years now, although he hardly expect the US Treasury to even consider it for inclusion on its list of currency manipulators - after all, "everyone is doing it".

Bank Of America On The "Trillion Dollar Tooth Fairy" Straight "From The Land Of Fiscal Make Believe"

A year ago, out of nowhere, the grotesque suggestion to "resolve" the US debt ceiling with a platinum dollar coin came, and like a bad dream, mercifully disappeared even as the debt ceiling negotiations dragged until the last minute, without this idea being remotely considered for implementation, for one simple reason: it is sheer political, monetary and financial lunacy. And yet there are those, supposedly intelligent people, who one year later, continue dragging this ridiculous farce, as a cheap parlor trick which is nothing but a transparent attempt for media trolling and exposure, which only distracts from America's unsustainable spending problem and does nothing to address the real crisis the US welfare state finds itself in. And while numerous respected people have taken the time to explain the stupidity of the trillion dollar coin, few have done so as an integral part of the statist mainstream for one simple reason - it might provide a loophole opportunity, however tiny, to perpetuate the broken American model even for a day or two, if "everyone is in on it." Luckily, that is no longer the case and as even Ethan Harris from Bank of America (a firm that would be significantly impaired if America was forced to suddenly live within its means), the whole idea is nothing more than "the latest bad idea" straight "from the land of fiscal make believe." We can only hope that this finally puts this whole farce to bed.

Argentina President Rents Plane For International Trip To Avoid More Elliott Confiscations

In a somewhat surprising bid to avoid having even more Argentina assets impounded by the increasingly more belligerent hedge fund hordes, president Kirchner opted to squeeze the government's already dwindling coffers further and instead of using her official aircraft, she decided to pay British air charter Chapman Freeborn $880,000 for an airplane rental to take her to Cuba, the UAE, Indonesia and Vietnam. This happens even as Argentina is once again caught in a messy brawl with the UK over the Falklands. And while the nearly $1 million abuse of taxpayer funds will hardly pass unnoticed, we have no doubt that Argentina should be able to finance itself in the international markets efficiently should it choose to: just slap a high yield on the debt and pitch it to Elliott, already in possession of an Argentina boat, who may (or may not) gladly buy it. Stranger things have happened.

Deja Broke: Presenting The Treasury's Options To Continue Pretending The US Is Solvent

The debt limit was formally reached last week, and we expect the Treasury's ability to borrow to be exhausted by around March 1 (if not before) and while CDS are not flashing red, USA is at near 3-month wides. Like the previous debt limit debate in the summer of 2011, the debate seems likely to be messy, with resolution right around the deadline. That said, like the last debate we would expect the Treasury to prioritize payments if necessary, and Goldman does not believe holders of Treasury securities are at risk of missing interest or principal payments. The debt limit is only one of three upcoming fiscal issues, albeit the most important one. Congress also must address the spending cuts under sequestration, scheduled to take place March 1, and the expiration of temporary spending authority on March 27. While these are technically separate issues, it seems likely that they will be combined, perhaps into one package. This remains a 'very' recurring issue, given our government's spending habits and insistence on its solvency, as we laid out almost two years ago in great detail.

Guest Post: Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Frying Pan

The groupthink in the world of finance is some of the worst on the planet. It’s incredible how such an educated, experienced group can willfully ignore reality, stick their heads in the sand, and repeat the same mantras over and over again until they become axiomatic. The desire to be accepted by one’s peers is part of human nature. And when it’s one’s peers who are rigging the financial system, the pressure to adopt industrial groupthink is enormous. The dawning of a new year is invariably a time for forecasts. But we have some reservations about the seemingly ubiquitous binary decision to ditch bonds and put the proceeds into the stock market. To put it more plainly, ditching bonds to buy stocks may be jumping from the frying pan into another frying pan. To put it more plainly still, stock markets are only cheap by reference to grotesquely expensive government bonds, and the risk of significant price falls is ever present, especially at what is likely the tail-end of a multi-decade expansion in credit. A falling tide might sink more than one type of boat.

More Central Bank Gimmicks Exposed As European Collateral Shortage Deteriorates

The epic farce that is the opaque balance sheets of European banks, sovereigns, NCBs, and the ECB, continues to occur under our very eyes. Only when one sniffs below the headlines is the truth exposed with no apology or recognition of 'cheating' anywhere. To wit, following November's farcical over-payment on collateral by the ECB to Spanish banks (that was quietly brushed under the carpet by Draghi et al.), Germany's Die Welt am Sonntag has found that the Bank of France overpaid up to EUR550mm ($720mm) on its short-term paper financing to six French and Italian banks. The reason - incorrect evaluation of the crappy collateral (i.e. the NCB not taking a big enough haircut for risk purposes) on 113 separate occasions. The problem lies in the increasingly poor quality of collateral the CBs are willing to accept (and the illiquidity of the underlying markets) - as higher quality collateral disappears; which leaves the central bankers clearly out of depth when it comes to 'risk management', no matter how many times Draghi tells us this week.