Mark To Market
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 17:32 -0500
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...
We have spent a great amount of time recently discussing both the re-hypothecation debacle and the 'odd' moves in CDS - most specifically basis (the difference between CDS and bonds) shifts and the local-sovereign-referencing protection writing. Peter Tchir, of TF Market Advisors, provides further color on the latter (as the 'Ultimate' trade) and in an unsurprising twist, how the former was much more critical during the Lehman 'moment' and will once again rear its ugly head. Exposing the underbelly of these two dark sides of the market must surely raise concerns at the fragility of the entire system - as we remarked earlier - but the lessons unlearned, on which Peter expounds, from the Lehman period are reflective of regulators so far behind the curve that it is no wonder the market's edge-of-a-cliff-like feeling persists.
As Macbeth said, It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Fading the "Grand Plan" rally worked very well. There was a couple days of pain and then generally the market followed a nice path lower. Last week the market had felt oversold and was looking for a reason to rally. I thought that Monday was overdone, and that Wednesday was extremely overdone, but I started cutting shorts yesterday, and am now getting long. Everyone seems to understand that the "globally coordinated rate cut" plan was not a big deal in of itself, yet the market didn't give up any of the gains. Even some of the perma bulls downplayed the move. I think the move was meant to be more pre-emptive than a strong show of future support, but Ben is not dumb, and he has seen the outsized impact such a simple move had. Cracks will appear in this rally, and we will ultimately figure out the problem with the current attempts to fix Europe, but right now it is too vague to fight, positioning has been too extreme, and Bernanke and Draghi have to see the opportunity to push things forward while the market is behaving positively.
Buy the rumor, sell the news? Investors bought the rumor, then sold the lack of news, I think you are supposed to sell the news again, as there is nothing in this document that provides evidence that they get it, or that any scale can ever be achieved, and if anything, it makes you wonder if they will even get to the 440 billion of support the market thought they had back in July.
Time to start stocking up on those long term, OTM armageddon puts yet?
“Asset Swaps” make it more difficult for banks to sell. Banks will often buy a fixed rate bond and enter into an interest rate swap to “effectively” turn it into a floating rate asset. It should come as no surprise that banks that rely the most on rolling over short term debt are the ones most likely to asset swap bonds – yes the “weak” banks are the ones that hold bonds in this form.Asset swaps work fine so long as the underlying bond never becomes a “credit” problem. So long as it moves more in line with rates than with credit it is a sensible strategy. As Italy and Spain have become credit problems, they are no longer moving with rates, and these positions are adding to the problem.