While we have noted the comparative weakness in European credit and sovereign markets, stocks had so far remained hopeful until today. Bloomberg's broad BE500 index of European stocks fell 2.8% today, its worse performance since mid-November when the recent rally began. This one-day drop has wiped out the gains of the last five weeks in stocks and credit is even worse as it continues to lead risk lower. European financial stocks are catching up to European credit's weakness (and we note US financial credit is really coming off today). Whether or not to BTFD is the question. We note that this sell-off is much more broad-based with stocks and credit dropping together (instead of just credit last time) and across asset classes the weakness is in CONTEXT with broad derisking. Furthermore, Sovereign credit stress re-emerged with Spain and Italy up 26bps and 18bps on the week as the former is now at almost 4 week wides. At some point, we wonder when MtM losses will hit all those aggressive Italian and Spanish banks who loaded up on chaotically procyclical carry trades?
As we pointed out on Friday, there is a clear stigma being priced into LTRO-encumbered European banks relative to non-LTRO-encumbered (due to many aspects but most notably the implicit subordination of senior unsecured debt via collateralized loans to the ECB). Today that stigma, proving as we said that Draghi is simply incorrect, continues to grow as there is a dramatic preference for non-LTRO names in today's modest post-Greece's gun-to-my-head decision relative to a small improvement in LTRO-accepting names. As this performance gap increases we suspect it increases the probability that LTRO II will be a disappointment in terms of size and the implicit derisking that could encourage.
UPDATE: EURUSD back over 1.32 and TSYs +2bps on Greek loan plan news.
Credit (and vol) continue to lead the way as smart deriskers as ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) ends down only 0.5% - which sadly is the biggest drop since 12/28. The late day surge in ES, which was not supported by IG or HY credit (and very clearly not HYG - the HY bond ETF - which closed at its lows and saw its biggest single-day loss since Thanksgiving), saw heavier volumes and large average trade size which suggest professionals willing to cover longs or add shorts above in order to get filled. Materials stocks underperformed but the major financials had a tough day as their CDS deteriorated to one-week wides. VIX (and its many derivative ETFs) had a very bumpy ride today. VXX (the vol ETF) rose over 14% (most in 3 months) at one point before it pulled back (coming back to settle perfectly at its VWAP so not too worrisome). After the European close, FX markets largely went sideways with the USD inching higher (EUR weaker) as JPY strength reflected on FX carry pair weakness and held stocks down. Treasuries extended their gains from yesterday's peak of the week yields as 7s to 30s rallied around 6bps leaving the 30Y best performer on the week at around unchanged. Commodities generally tracked lower on USD strength with Oil the exception as WTI pushed back up to $99 into the close (ending the week +1.1% and Copper -1.1%). Gold and Silver ended the week down almost in line with USD's gains at around 0.25-0.5%. Broadly speaking risk has been off since around the European close yesterday and ES and CONTEXT have reconverged on a medium-term basis this afternoon (to around NFP-spike levels) as traders await the potential for event risk emerging from Europe.
While the EURUSD's recovery post Europe's close seemed to modestly support stocks, the USD is still up from Friday's close as ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) closes marginally in the green against the direction of FX carry, Treasuries, commodities broadly, and credit. The volumeless (and gravitationally unchallenged) push from post-Europe dip lows this afternoon were generally ignored by VIX, investment grade, and high-yield credit markets, after the morning was a relatively significant amount of selling pressure in HYG (the increasingly significant high-yield bond ETF) to pre-NFP levels only be bough all the way back and some more into the close. Average trade size and deltas had a decidedly negative feel on every algo-driven push higher from VWAP to unchanged but the divergence between Brent and WTI dragged the Energy sector over 1% higher (as every other sector lost ground with Financials and Materials underperforming. Treasuries rallied well from the Europe close and closed just off low yields of the day as commodities all ended lower from Friday's close with Copper and WTI underperforming and Silver just edging Gold as they hovered around USD's beta for the day. VIX dropped modestly after the cash close but ended higher on the day with a notably low volatility of vol from mid-morning onwards (and the late-day vol compression seemed index-driven as implied correlation also fell commensurately). A quiet day in European sovereign and financials along with the disastrously low volume day in ES and on the NYSE really don't feel like signs of broad participation as Greek events slowly but surely unfold along the path of known resistance.
One of the major factors in the Central Banks of the world having stepped up the pace of flushing the world with increasing amounts of freshly digitized cash is writ large in the contraction in credit availability to the real economy (even to shipbuilders). Anecdotal examples of this constrained credit are everywhere but much more clearly and unequivocally in tightening lending standards in all of the major economies. As Bank of America's credit team points out, bank lending standards to corporates have tightened globally in Q4 2011 and the picture is ubiquitously consistent across the US, Europe, and Emerging Markets. Whether it is deleveraging, derisking, or simple defending of their balance sheets, banks' credit availability is becoming more constrained. While the Fed's QE and Twist monetization and then most recently the ECB's LTRO has led (aside from self-reinforcing short-dated reach-arounds in BTPs and circular guarantees supposedly reducing tail risk) to nothing but massive increases in bank reserves (as opposed to flowing through to the real economy), we suspect it was designed to halt the significantly tighter corporate lending environment (most significantly in European and Emerging Markets). The critical corollary is that, as BAML confirms, the single best non-market based indicator of future defaults is tightening lending standards and given the velocity of shifts in Europe and EM (and very recent swing in the US), investors reaching for high-yield may be ill-timed at best and disastrous credit cycle timing at worst (bearing in mind the upgrade/downgrade ratio is also shifting dramatically). Liquidity band-aids are not a solution for insolvency cardiac arrests as the dual vicious cycles of bank and sovereign stress remain front-and-center in Europe (with EM a close second) and the hope for real economic growth via credit creation kick-started by an LTRO is the pipe-dream the market is surviving on currently.
The so-called January-Effect is almost at an end and if the market closes near these levels, the S&P 500 will have managed a 4.4% gain or its 20th best January since 1928 (84 years) and best since 1997. The outperformance of banks and sovereigns (LTRO) and the worst-of-the-worst quality names (most-shorted Russell 3000 stocks +9% YTD vs Russell 3000 +5.2%), as Morgan Stanley noted recently, is not entirely surprising since the January effect is considerably larger in mid-cap and junk quality names than any other size or quality cohorts. We have pointed to the seasonal positives in high-yield credit and volatility and along with the obvious short squeeze in S&P futures (which has seen net spec shorts come back to balance recently), we, like MS, are concerned that the tailwinds of exuberance that virtuously reflect from seemingly pivotal securities (such as short-dated BTPs now or Greek Cash-CDS basis previously) very quickly revert to a sense of reality (earnings and outlook changes) and perhaps the slowing rally and rising volatility of the last few days is the start of that turbulence.
The divergence between credit and equity marksts that we noted into the European close on Friday closed and markets sold off significantly. European sovereigns especially were weak with our GDP-weighted Eurozone credit risk index rising the most in six weeks. High beta assets underperformed (as one would expect obviously) as what goes up, comes down quicker. Stocks, Crossover (high-yield) credit, and subordinated financials were dramatically wider. Senior financials and investment grade credit modestly outperformed their peers but also saw one of the largest decompressions in over a month (+5.5bps today alone in the latter) as indices widen back towards their fair-values. The 'small moderation' of the last few weeks has given way once again to the reality of the Knightian uncertainty Europeans face as obviously Portugal heads squarely into the cross-hairs of real-money accounts looking to derisk (10Y Portugal bond spreads +224bps) and differentiate local vs non-local law bonds. While EURUSD hovered either side of 1.31, it was JPY strength that drove derisking pressure (implicitly carry unwinds) as JPYUSD rose 0.5% on the day (back to 10/31 intervention levels). EURCHF also hit a four-month low. Treasuries and Bunds moved in sync largely with Treasuries rallying hard (30Y <3% once again) and curves flattening rapidly. Commodities bounced off early Europe lows, rallied into the European close and are now giving back some of those gains (as the USD starts to rally post Europe). Oil and Gold are in sync with USD strength as Silver and Copper underperform - though all are down from Friday's close.
Remember back in long distant memories (from a month ago) when all the chatter was for the US to decouple from Europe as the former (US) macro data was positive and a 'muddle-through' consensus relative to the European debacle took hold. Since 12/14, European markets have significantly outperformed US markets (both broadly speaking and even more massively in financials - which is impressive given the strength in US financials). Furthermore, we saw a decoupling of correlation (de-correlating) between EUR and risk as a weaker EUR was positive for risk as USD strength showed that the world was not coming to an end (and Europe was 'contained'). Well things are changing - dramatically. EUR and risk were anti-correlated for the first two weeks of the year and since then have re-correlated. The last few days have seen EUR weakness (Greek PSI and Portugal fears) coincident with risk weakness (ES and AUD lower for instance as US macro data disappoints and a dreary Fed outlook with no imminent QE). Given the high expectations of LTRO's savior status, European financials have been the big winners (+20% from 12/14 and +15% YTD in USD terms) compared to a meager +12% and +8.8% YTD for US financials - with most of the outperformance looking like an overshoot from angst at the start of the year in Europe (which disappeared 1/9). With EUR and risk re-correlating (and derisking very recently), perhaps it is time to reposition the decoupling trade (short EU financials vs long US financials) though derisking seems more advisable overall with such binary risk-drivers as Greek PSI failure, Portuguese restructuring (yields have crashed higher), and the Feb LTRO pending (which perhaps explains the steepness of vol curves everywhere).
Amid the best start of the year for the S&P 500 since 1987, Nic Colas of ConvergEx offers some deep thoughts on how behavioral finance concepts can help us understand the dichotomy between last year's derisking and this year's rerisking in terms of market participant psychology. Between delving into whether a short-sharp or long-slow colonoscopy is 'preferable' Nic reflects (antithetically) on 10 bullish perspectives for the current rally and how the human mind (which still makes up maybe 50% of cross-asset class trading if less in stocks) processes discomfort in very different ways. Critically, while it sounds counter-intuitive to him (and us), focusing on the pain of recent volatility is actually more conducive to investors' ability to get back on the horse especially when the acute pain is ended so abruptly (intervention). As studeis have found, "subjects who actually focus on a painful experience while it is happening are more willing to immediately undergo further pain than those who performed some distracting task"
Friday was the most active day in ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) since 12/16 and today saw volume once again surge in the futures market as it tested 1300 for the first time since 7/28. However, NYSE stock volume (which managed a very late-day spurt on Friday) was dismal once again today (for instance -25% from Friday with 3 minutes to go) with another extremely late jump taking it back to 'normal' for the year so far (but still dramatically low compared to previous year 'norms'). Stocks rallied on China GDP and an optically decent Spanish auction but as we moved into the European close, risk started to leak off and accelerated in the afternoon as IMF headlines, LTRO rumors, and IIF/PSI chatter hit though more expansive ECB rumors seemed to stall losses at last night's ES re-open levels. ES is down very marginally from Friday's late-day ramp close and credit outperformed today (though HYG hung in with stock's weakness) as financials underperformed. The majors were the worst performers with Citi and BofA giving decent amount of YTD gains back. EUR stabilized post-Europe (after selling off into their close) with the USD (DXY) down 0.4% from Friday and GBP underperforming. In the face of the USD stability this afternoon, commodities were mixed with Oil spiking back over $100 (as NatGas was crushed), Copper leaking off but holding gains 2%-plus gains from Friday (China), as Silver and Gold lost their earlier gains (3% and 1.5% at best) to end around 0.75-1% better from Friday's close (still a double on USD weakness). Treasuries closed marginally lower in yield from Friday (1bps max) but were 4-5bps lower in yield from around the European close (as 2s10s30s slid also). Stocks closed well below broad risk assets as FX carry never really joined the derisking craze and oil's strength seemed divergent for now.
Following yesterday's extravaganza in European credit markets, which saw XOver (European high-yield credit) surge to highs year-to-date (wiping out a week's worth of leaking wider in one fell swoop), today's open suggested some follow-through but as macro data combined with France downgrade rumors (denied rapidly) sovereign and corporate credit markets sold off quite rapidly into the close. Interestingly, financials (senior and sub debt) managed to hold gains from yesterday's close as XOver and Main (Europe's investment grade credit index) along with the broad stock market lost ground to close near their lows (though well off yesterday's open still). EURUSD (holding under 1.27 at the EUR close) weakened fairly consistently after Spanish industrial output and German GDP did nothing to inspire and while sovereign spreads (Spanish and Italian mostly) were outperforming, as the French rumors hit, they sold off rapidly (France and Italy back to unchanged). As usual into the close there was a modest risk rally and sovereign spreads leaked modestly tighter (by around 6-9bps) with France underperforming but we did not see that bounce in corporate credit. The weakness in 'cheap-hedge' investment grade credit suggests risk appetite is not returning and decompression trades are back in vogue after yesterday's snap and perhaps a growing realization that no PSI agreement is looming anytime soon.
The S&P 500 closed practically unchanged today - recovering from decent selloff to a late-Europe-session low - amid volume that was over 30% lower than at the same time last year. Investment grade credit, the high-yield bond ETF HYG, and broad risk assets in general kept pace with ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) but high yield credit (tracked by the HY17 credit derivative index) outperformed considerably - moving to its best levels since late October. This disconnect appeared as much driven by technicals from HY-XOver (Long US credit vs Short EU credit) and HYG vs HY17 (a high premium-to-NAV bond ETF vs relatively cheap high yield spread index) trades as it was a pure risk-on trade. Elsewhere, the USD retraced only marginally the earlier gains of the day (with EUR hanging under 1.2950 by the close) as Treasury yields jumped 5-7bps more (30Y +14bps on the week now) as we can't help but notice the correlation between TSY weakness and EUR strength for a few hours this afternoon (repatriation to pay up for tomorrow's French auction?). Commodities were very mixed with Copper sliding notably (decoupling from its new friend Gold which rose and stabilized this afternoon over $1610) as Oil pushed higher all day (over $103) on Iran news and Silver leaked back this afternoon (under $29.5).
High yield credit spreads were the first to show signs of disappointment this morning but this seemed more due to technical relationships in the CDS index market as HYG stormed ahead with stocks. Commodities had notably cracked early on this morning and were trending lower already as we broke the FT rumor of broad S&P downgrades in euro sovereigns. All markets reacted instantly, no questions asked, and while IG, HY, and the S&P dropped together, it was the drops in commodities as the USD strengthened that were optically of the highest magnitude. TSYs also instantly reacted and were another major outperformer - drastically beating Bunds on the day. ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) was much less volatile than broad risk assets overnight but as Europe opened markets started to move closely together in a positive risk mode. CONTEXT (the broad risk basket) was less positive that ES in the US morning session but as we sold off and closed they were closely in sync once again as every member of the basket was contributing to risk aversion. Financials outperformed but were well off their intraday highs as a sector with the majors closing mixed (e.g. BAC near lows and MS near highs) but we note that financials were the most net sold (especially the majors) in corporate bond land.
Some late day covering lifted 30Y TSY yields and EUR strengthened against the USD (European banks repatriating ahead of their open?) helping CONTEXT and elevating ES into the close. ES was on its own relative to credit though as it tore back up to try and regain VWAP.
The late day collapse in financials (thanks to Fitch's comments that seemed to wake up a sleeping equity market to the reality that credit has been screaming for weeks) helped drag equities (and HY debt) significantly lower. Most notably, amid a much higher than average volume day today, the dislocations of the last few days - that we have highlighted - have converged very rapidly this afternoon. ES significantly underperformed a broad basket of risk assets (CONTEXT) into the close as copper and oil gave back some of the day's gains. TSYs closed at low yields for the day - and 2s10s30s dropped significantly - as we warned it would have to sustain any sell-off as EURUSD tracked back towards its lowest levels of the day dragging DXY up to almost unchanged on the day (+1.7% on the week). On a longer-term basis, HY markets are priced for an S&P around 1190 currently but as HY also collapses wider, we will rapidly see the 'expected' S&P level drop further. Credit Anticipates and Equity Confirms is often cited by old-school credit market professionals - it seems once again that it is true. What is more evident, and discussed by Peter Tchir of TF MArket Advisors, is the morphing of the sovereign crisis into a banking system crisis as TPTB are unable to achieve anything of note.
So much for that Greek bailout plan. Greek CDS are now back at fresh all time highs as the market seems set on not only testing the EU's rescue resolve, but determined to get a fresh new bailout plan entirely. At last check CDS was just shy of 1,000 bps. The immediate catalyst is a Fitch report that says Greece risk has gone up and that the country will need further consolidation in 2011 and 2012. The broader catalyst is that the entire Greek credit market is completely dead (noi cash liquidity) and momentum trading has now arrived in CDS, which is the only place left to express a bearish stance on Greece. Should the spread onslaught continue, we expect all of Europe to follow Germany's example and immediately ban naked CDS shorts across the continent. Luckily, both China and India are now set to open CDS trading of their own.