Mark To Market
We know how AIG and MF ended, as of yet we don't know how LTRO will end. Lots of "carry" trades have worked out well, but when they don't, the result is pretty ugly. Now we are seeing margin calls from the ECB starting to occur and we noted yesterday that MtM losses will start to evolve in some of the carry trades as risk is unwound very recently - perhaps we are getting a sneak peek at the cause of the next vicious cycle crisis.
Now that the hype of LTRO is over (for now) people are starting to focus on the details and some of the potential consequences. This is a first cut based on bits and pieces from various LTRO documents released by the ECB. We haven’t seen anything that resembles a document fully describing the current LTROs, but are trying to find it, and will refine this analysis as more details come to light. Between early maturity possibilities, the floating rate nature of the loan, and now the variation margin we discussed last night, it seems LTRO may rightfully be the driver of the 'stigma' extensively noted here previously.
The latest quarterly report out of CoreLogic is as usual full of curious insights about the state of US housing. Key among them is the finding that "negative equity and near-negative equity mortgages accounted for 27.8 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide in the fourth quarter, up from 27.1 in the previous quarter. Nationally, the total mortgage debt outstanding on properties in negative equity increased from $2.7 trillion in the third quarter to $2.8 trillion in the fourth quarter." In other words, courtesy of no Mark To Market, there is at least $2.8 trillion in debt held by investors (read banks and GSEs) that is marked at par and should be impaired. And one wonders why Fannie lost $16.9 billion in 2011 (up from $14.0 billion in 2010), and needed another taxpayer injection of $4.6 billion in Q4: it is so banks can pretend reality exists, and in the process avoid evicting tenants who live in these underwater homes, and who can pretend they don't have to pay their bills, but can spend money on iGadgets instead. Yet the scariest data point is that if one is currently in Nevada and looks at three houses right this second, two of them are underwater, or said otherwise, have negative or near-negative equity.
So, yesterday it was revealed that both Goldman and JPM had about 145 billion of “gross” notional outstanding on CDS related to the PIIGS. That means they each had roughly 145 billion of purchases and sales. They spoke about various netting agreements that makes the real number lower. They also mentioned with collateral and on a mark to market basis, the real exposure is far lower. Fine, though I wonder why they don’t execute the “master” netting and get the gross notionals down? Wouldn’t that help the system? If these were cleared or on an exchange, all they would have a single net exposure for each country. The collateral and netting would be handled at the central clearing or exchange. Wouldn’t that be simpler? Safer? The e-mini S&P future contract seems to be able to trade that way just fine, and it is more volatile than CDS on most days. Italian CDS is in 25 bps today – seems like a lot, but the up-front payment to buy or sell Italian CDS has changed by less than 1%.
Somehow, following three years of defaults, the world has only now figured out that the ISDA CDS trigger determination committee is made up of the same bankers, who stand to lose everything in the case of global out of control contagion, such as that which may occur if an unwelcome CDS trigger sends the house of cards collapsing, and force mark to market losses on all those institutions which hold impaired debt at par (all of them). As a result, the ISDA meeting which is currently in process is expect to find absolutely nothing, and we agree, however not for that particular 'conspiratorial' reason, but because ISDA is waiting for the PSI outcome for a realistic finding on a credit event. Because after all ISDA is not stupid: they don't want to appear like a pushover - remember how vehemently ISDA had opposed a Greek CDS trigger in the days when Europe still was not prepared for this outcome - but on the other hand wants to preserve some CDS market credibility, which would disappear if none of the recent events in Greece were to trigger CDS. Yet more Greek creditors are getting impatient. Even as the first ISDA meeting has to find (that there has been no CDS trigger), the association's determination committee has just released that it has gotten a second question whether a "Restructuring Credit Event occurred with respect to The Hellenic Republic?" We find it rather odd (or not really) how suddenly quite a few requests are springing out of the woodwork by creditors who obviously are interest in a Greek default. As such the PSI gets quite interesting, because if the pre-PSI action is any indication, quite a few creditors are rather interested in triggering just the event they now consistently badger ISDA with.
Everyone and their mum knows by now that Italian bonds have rallied since the first LTRO and we are told that this is symptomatic of 'improvement'. While we hate to steal the jam from that doughnut, we note Peter Tchir's interesting chart showing how focused the strength is in the short-end of the bond curve (which we know is thanks to the ECB's SMP program preference and the LTRO skew) but more notably the significantly less ebullient performance of the less manipulated and more fast-money, mark-to-market reality CDS market as we suspect, like him, the CDS is pricing in the longer-term subordination and termed out insolvency risk much more clearly than the illiquid bond market does, and perhaps bears closer scrutiny for a sense of what real risk sentiment really looks like.
While the now scheduled Irish referendum on the fiscal treaty, which will likely not pass successfully absent major concessions on behalf of Europe, will not precipitate a failure of the recently agree upon compact, as 12 out of the 17 contracting parties need to support the Eurozone, it will have an impact in that it would impact future bailouts of Ireland courtesy of preset European bailout mechanisms. In other words, should things take a turn for the worse, and they will, in the near future, Ireland will have to rely on itself to save itself. As a reminder, it took Europe 2 years to (supposedly) firewall itself from default and a collapse of its banks. How long will the same take for Ireland, because while the country may be standalone, its banks most certainly will not be. Remember that money is fungible. So are massive unrecognized Mark to Market losses. Morgan Stanley explains.
The real world revolves around cash flow. Families across the land understand this basic concept. Cash flows in from wages, investments and these days from the government. Cash flows out for food, gasoline, utilities, cable, cell phones, real estate taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes, clothing, mortgage payments, car payments, insurance payments, medical bills, auto repairs, home repairs, appliances, electronic gadgets, education, alcohol (necessary in this economy) and a countless other everyday expenses. If the outflow exceeds the inflow a family may be able to fund the deficit with credit cards for awhile, but ultimately running a cash flow deficit will result in debt default and loss of your home and assets. Ask the millions of Americans that have experienced this exact outcome since 2008 if you believe this is only a theoretical exercise. The Federal government, Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks, regulatory agencies and commercial real estate debtors have colluded since 2008 to pretend cash flow doesn’t matter. Their plan has been to “extend and pretend”, praying for an economic recovery that would save them from their greedy and foolish risk taking during the 2003 – 2007 Caligula-like debauchery.
Debt default means huge losses for the Wall Street criminal banks. Of course the banksters will just demand another taxpayer bailout from the puppet politicians. This repeat scenario gives new meaning to the term shop until you drop. Extending and pretending can work for awhile as accounting obfuscation, rolling over bad debts, and praying for a revival of the glory days can put off the day of reckoning for a couple years. Ultimately it comes down to cash flow, whether you’re a household, retailer, developer, bank or government. America is running on empty and extending and pretending is coming to an end.
An explicit contagion path chart, since you probably won't get info like this anywhere else...
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?
Markets are rallying on the back of Greece’s approval of the austerity measures, and all I can think of is the ill-timed 1938 speech by Neville Chamberlain. But analyzing that leads to dark places, far too dark for a Monday morning when the markets are up. So I’ll try and lighten the mood, and only think about a book with talking animals – Animal Farm:
Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?
Why do I find it so easy to imagine those words coming out of some technocrat’s mouth? Why are the Greek people faced with bailout or chaos? There has never been an alternative to the bailout since no politician has worked on one. There is plenty of historical evidence showing that countries can default, and not just survive, but thrive.
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.
The Greek PSI is once again (still) hitting the headlines. Here is what we think the most likely scenario is (80% likelihood). Some form of an agreement will be announced. The IIF will announce that the “creditor committee has agreed in principle to a plan.” That plan will need to be “formalized” and final agreement from the individual institutions on the committee and those that weren’t part of the committee will need to be obtained. The headline will sound good, but will leave a month or so for details to come out. In the meantime every European and EU leader (or employee) with a press contact will say what a great deal it is. That it confirms that Europe is on the path of progress and that they are doing what they committed to at their summits. That will be the hype that will drive the market higher (or in fact has already done so). However, the reality (as we noted earlier in Einhorn's market madness chart) is that this still leaves hedge funds to acquiesce (unlikely) and furthermore focus will switch to Greece's actual debt sustaianability post-default (yes the d-word) and as we are seeing recently, Portugal will come into very sharp focus. If they cannot bribe and blackmail and threaten their way into something they call PSI, then we will see Greece stop making payments, and then the markets will get very ugly in a hurry.
So the market has completely latched on to the idea that LTRO is back-door QE. Does this make any sense and can it even work? So banks can borrow money for up to 3 years from the ECB. They can buy sovereign bonds with that money. Those bonds would be posted as collateral at the ECB. The bull case would have banks buying lots of European Sovereign Debt with this program. The purchases would be focused on Italian and Spanish bonds with maturities less than 3 years. Buying bonds with a maturity longer than the repo facility is risky. The banks would need to be assured they can roll the debt at the end of the repo period. Some may be convinced, but the bulk of the purchases will be 3 years and in so that they loans can be repaid with the redemption proceeds. So banks buy the bonds and earn the carry and all is good? Not so fast. The LTRO can help the banks with their existing funding problems without a doubt, but it is unclear that encourages new bond purchases. I think we have already seen the initial impact. There will be significant interest in tapping the LTRO for existing positions. Some small amount of incremental purchases may occur at the time, but the banks will use this to finance existing positions. Now we will wait to see rates do well, but will be disappointed. The big banks with risk management departments will decide to decline. The risk/reward just won’t be attractive to them. In the end, this won’t do much for the sovereign debt market, but will shine a spotlight on which banks should be shorted and will possibly expedite their default.
Citi Near Term Stock Forecast: 9300 In The DJIA; 985 In The S&P; Sees Chart Analogs To Pre-World War PeriodsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/14/2011 18:32 -0400
Earlier today we presented one of the 12 forecasts by Citi's FX Technical group which saw gold reversing recent drops, and soaring to $2400 by H2 2012 and far higher later on. Naturally, one argument is that this is simply Citi talking their books, and that one should be short when a bank is pitching a long. Of course, that is a valid interpretation. On the other hand, it is also possible that the recommendation is nothing less than a contextual recommendation of the what the big picture would look like if the bankers' grand plan falls into place. And the plan is simple, and has been discussed extensively before here: namely, to push the market to that critical triple digit threshold at which point Congress and the population (most certainly including the "99" which just happen to have 401(k) and other pension funds) will beg Bernanke to print. However, the traditional resistance has been the market discounting precisely this, and refusing to sell knowing that when the market drops, it will eventually rise: a traditional Catch 22. Which is why stocks in the US have lagged the correction in China and Europe for as long as they have - this has not been a decoupling as is widely misunderstood; what it has been is a delayed realization that Bernanke will not print until market discounting fails, and stocks flush. Then and only then will "salvation" come from Saint Ben. Which is actually precisely what Citi is preaching. In the next two charts, we see its recommendations for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P, as dropping to 9300 and upper 900s in the S&P, at which point the Fed will have no choice but to intervene. It is in this context that the lift off of gold will take place, and where the previously stated targets of north of $2400 are quite feasible. Yet, ignoring the price of gold, it is Citi's ultimate conclusion that is most disturbing: the bank finds eerie similarities in the current stock market formation with previous charts, both of which eventually led to World Wars...