We discussed the start of a new breed of bond issuance in Europe earlier in the week. The Ponzi Bond was born and today Banco Espirito Santo, of Portugal, came to the market (was there really an external demand?) and issued EUR1bn of three-year debt guaranteed by none other than the 16.4% yielding-equivalent three-year Portuguese government. Peter Tchir notes that "If the Japanese created the 'zombie' banks, the Europeans are perfecting them." On the bright side, the ECB has saved itself the effort of creating a "bad bank" and has just become one.
The issue of Germany and its approach to ameliorating the overleveraged balance sheets of its southern neighbors will dictate the direction of sovereign spreads in 2012. The direction of sovereign spreads will also determine the direction of risk premium spreads in the leveraged finance markets— both bonds and loans. Defaults in the leveraged finance market will and should be an afterthought to the systemic risk factors inherent in sovereign and next-of-kin bank credit spreads. Therefore, forecasting default rates should take a backseat to a better understanding of German Kultur and thought that will shape the euro-zone sovereign finance structure in 2012 and beyond. The most recent European Union summit highlighted that we are left with some of the same issues that confronted the great empires prior to World War I—the battle between “English liberalism with its emphasis on individual freedom and self-determination and Prussian socialism with its emphasis on order and authority.”
European credit and equity markets rallied today but there was considerable relative underperformance by the former (especially in financials). Sovereign spreads leaked wider all day and started to lose it more rapidly into the close. It looks like Senior versus Subordinated decompression trades were placed in the European afternoon (a bearish trade ion financials) and even with the ECB in the market, BTPs closed above 500bps over Bunds (just shy of 7% all-in yields). Broad risk assets also lost ground as Europe's bid eased off as Oil eased back off its best levels and FX carry came off its highs of the day. US Treasuries are rallying after trying to converge earlier and 2s10s30s is also dragging risk lower for now.
About a year ago, we discussed the very troubling moves by insolvent countries such as Ireland and Hungary to "raid" their pensions funds for various fungible purposes, a move which in virtually every way a was a progenitor to the MF Global capital commingling, if not outright bankruptcy, and was explained as reflecting "a willingness by governments to use long-term assets to fill short-term deficits, including Ireland’s announcement last week that it would use the country’s €24bn National Pensions Reserve Fund “to support the exchequer’s funding programme” and Hungary’s bid to claw $15bn of private pension funds back to the state system." While it was unclear precisely what the use of funds was, back then FN speculated that it pension funds were being tapped to boost sovereign debt bids. Which if true means that Europe's peripheral pensioners have seen about a 20% drop in the NPV of their retirement assets. Today we add Portugal to the list of countries committing an MF Global type crime on a global scale: the Telegraph writes: "Portugal has raided €5.6bn (£4.8bn) of pension fund assets in a controversial scramble to meet its deficit targets." And since the money is once again implicitly and explicitly used to patch broken fiscal models, it is as good as gone. Which in a paradoxical way is almost welcome, as the true Arab Spring will not come to Europe (and America) until the citizens don't read, in clear writing, that their welfare state entitlement benefits are gone.... They are all gone. And at that point there will be truly nothing left to lose.
Just a step behind the Chinese as usual, and just in time to kill a modest EURUSD rally. Also on the same day as the first mass strike in Portugal which reminds us that everyone will want a piece of the debt reduction pie.
Arguably the least biased (or perhaps least cognitively dissonant) of the major ratings agencies, China's Dagong has just moved Portugal's rating to junk (BB+) from comfortably investment grade (BBB+) - a 3 notch drop. The rating agency also left the peripheral nation on negative watch. This action follows Monday's Greek downgrade from C to CCC. Is this a ploy for better entry levels when they save the world with their EFSF-buying bazooka? Or more likely a more honest reflection of a debt-laden, slow-growing, austerity-facing nation burdened with inadequate leadership and an inability to control its own fate?
There's that name again: BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, and the firm that was forced to deny last Wednesday it is in any trouble courtesy of accumulating unknown amounts of Italian bonds (how about a nice little Cusip list there Rick Reider?), just made the news following a report in Reuters that the firm anticipates massive haircuts in 3 of the 5 PIIGS. From Reuters: "Debt restructuring in Greece, Portugal and Ireland with write-downs for private creditors of 75 percent to 80 percent are needed to help stop Europe's debt crisis turning into a global meltdown, said BlackRock, one of the world's largest asset managers. "Governments are falling, bond yields are zig-zagging by whole percentage points and markets around the world are locking up: the euro zone turmoil risks turning into a global crisis," BlackRock said in a research note on Monday." So, let's see: Greece, Portugal and Ireland... But not Italy of course? The country that has the second largest amount of debt in Europe is somehow excluded from a very conflicted BlackRock's "objective" analysis. Why is that? "BlackRock also said the European Central Bank should buy more bonds and that policymakers should provide more details on the rescue fund and implement fiscal discipline without hurting growth, according to the note." Is BlackRock betting the farm that the ECB will bail it out? That didn't work too well for MF... Seriously, Rick, some CUSIP level breakdown of your Italian exposure would be terrific. Even if it is at the "net" level. We can wait. So can the market.
Previously we noted that, just as expected, the weakest PIIGS - Portugal and Ireland - wasted no time to start rumblings about a "suddenly slowing economy" in the aftermath of the Greek bail out which achieved nothing but to delay contagion by 48 hours (we won't bother readers with the blow out in Italian bond yields any more), and to unleash demands by everyone else to get the same concessions, in essence pushing Europe into an even deeper hole, forcing Golum Van Rompuystiltskin to say he was only kidding about the 4-5x EFSF leverage: he really meant 45x. Confirming that the tsunami of demands has been unleashed is today's announcement from the Bank of Spain that not only was Q3 GDP flat (read: negative), but that the deficit target for the year would not be achieved. Google translated from Expansion: "The Bank of Spain says the Spanish economic growth was zero in the third quarter from the previous quarter and warns that there are significant risks that may prevent achieving the deficit target this year. The Bank of Spain said that the information available for the third quarter suggests that the pattern of decline shown in the previous quarter "would have continued in the middle months of the year, in an environment marked by the deepening crisis of sovereign debt euro area." Truly nobody could have seen this coming, yet it is odd how it was casually slipped in broader discussion three short days after the Greek bailout.
It has been just over 48 hours since our call that PIIGS the world over will scramble to demand the same concessions that were just granted to Greece courtesy of its economy being in the toilet and getting worse (thanks to lies to misrepresent the Greek economy as being worse than it really was). We already got Ireland yesterday. Now it is Portugal's turn. Reuters reports that "Portugal asked Mexico on Saturday to tell fellow G20 members next week that the United States should offer "financial help" to resolve the euro zone sovereign debt crisis, describing it as a "systemic and global" problem, a Portuguese government source said." Of course, the "US" is a clear proxy for "everyone else" - that the US, whose politicians can't agree on a fiscal stimulus for the US, let alone for some country by the straits of Gibraltar they have never heard of, will not move an inch to save Portugal is a given. Which means that once Portugal is, as it anticipates perfectly well, shut down by the US it will commence demanding for help from those who at least can grant it - the EMU and the Eurozone. And when those refuse, Portugal will do the glaringly obvious: take a page right out of the Greek textbook and proceed to suicide its own economy. And why not - it worked miracles for Greece. Now: two down and two to go. The only question is when does Italy do precisely the same logical next step, and tell the world that its $2+ trillion in debt, the second most in the Eurozone after only Germany, is unsustainable, and will need a modest haircut. 20% should do it. We wonder, what will that do to French banks (and their "perfectly hedged" US proxies - such as MF Global and others)?
In May, shortly before receiving a EUR 78bn bailout, the Portuguese government trumpeted encouraging snippets regarding the state of the economy. “Fiscal revenues up 16.8% y/y in April” (May 20th). “January-through-April central government deficit EUR 1.55bn, 2.28bn less than a year ago” (5/20). The new government announced “to set an example of cutting spending in administration” and intended “to surprise, go beyond bailout terms” (Coelho 6/6). The good news continued: “Central government deficit for the first five months of 2011 cut to 1.03bn”; “State spending fell 7.2%, revenues rose 6.9% in the period January through May” (June 20th). With all those feel-good reports it was only fair for the EU’s Troika report on Portugal to be “very positive” (Baroso, June 23rd). The EFSF disbursed its funds to Portugal on June 29th. However, as anybody who has ever visited a Hungarian coffee house can confirm, as soon as you pay the fiddler, the music stops. After six months, “there was a shortfall of 1.1% of GDP in budget” (Finance Minister, August 12th). Wait a minute. According to the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estatistica) the budget deficit for H1 2011 amounted to 8.4% of GDP or roughly EUR 6.7bn. So we went from 1bn at the end of May to 6.7bn mere four weeks later?
First Spain's Castilla La Mancha region was the first to announce it had "discovered" major debt ceiling holes, now it is Portugal's turn. The Telegraph informs that "Portugal's new leader Pedro Passos Coelho has told the nation to brace for further austerity measures after his government discovered a "colossal" €2bn (£1.7bn) hole in the public accounts left by the outgoing Socialists." And while it answers our immediate question "who's next" it certainly does not provide an answer to who's last. Because as more and more governments are changed, more and more such "discoveries" will be announced, but luckily for Europe (and then America), there are far more pressing issues that distract the populace than discoveries than in the past would have led to popular backlash. Concurrently, Portugal joins Greece in indicating that beggars can most certainly be choosers: "Mr Passos Coelho also appeared to caution the European authorities that his government will not tolerate heavy-handed interference in the country. "We want to take part in an ambitious European project and make our contribution so Europe can confront its problems in the most ambitious way, but as prime minister I will not stand by and let Europe govern Portugal," he told a party gathering." And while short-termism reigns across capital markets at least for a few more hours, the reality is that there is simply not enough money out there to plug each and every hole as it is uncovered. But that will take the market a few weeks to months to realize.
And heeeeeere's Moody's to dump on today's no volume levitation and push Portugal further into junk: "Moody's Investors Service has today downgraded Portugal's long-term government bond ratings to Ba2 from Baa1 and assigned a negative outlook. Concurrently, Moody's has also downgraded the government's short-term debt rating to (P) Not-Prime from (P) Prime-2. Today's rating action concludes the review of Portugal's ratings initiated on 5 April 2011."
As expected, the Portuguese elections appear to be a massive victory for the Social Democrats' Pedro Passos Coelho, who is now guaranteed to replace Socrates as Portugal's next PM. The latest results indicate a 41.08% lead for the PSD compared to 28.77% for the PS. What will this change in terms of national policies for this latest IMF vassal state? Absolutely nothing (as discussed earlier). Follow the latest district by district data live here.
Today, in a much anticipated outcome, Portugal will vote to replace the caretaker Prime Minister Jose Socrates with opposition center-right Social Democrat Pedro Passos Coelho. Alas this is largely a symbolic vote as the new guy is just a continuation of the policies of the old guy: "Passos Coelho, who cast his vote at a polling station in Amadora on the outskirts of Lisbon, where reporters by far outnumbered voters, said Portugal had to stick to the bailout terms to regain market confidence and return to growth." Even the young people understand this: "Ricardo, a voter in his late 20s, expressed a common view that any new government just has to march to the beat of the lenders' drum. "I think the election won't bring anything new because it's the IMF in charge of the country now ... Any party that gets to the government will just have to follow IMF rules, " he said." Spot on. And we wonder how long before Mohamed El-Erian, or some other actual thinker, has an op-ed discussing the pitfalls of what we have now trademarked as "The Congress of Berlin 2.0: the scramble for Europe."
EU Debt Contamination Deepens In Greece, Portugal And Ireland - Gold Just 2% From Record Nominal HighSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/30/2011 08:00 -0400
Gold and silver are flat in US dollars but higher in euros this morning. Trade is thin with the UK and US markets closed for spring holidays. Gold and silver were 1.75% and 8% higher last week and the precious metals and especially gold appear to be on solid footing due to the continuing debt crisis in Europe and concerns about a slowdown in the US and global economy. Despite gold being only some 2% away from the record nominal highs seen at the end of April ($1,563.70/oz), sentiment remains lackluster at best with little or no coverage of gold in the international financial press and media over the weekend. In the last two weeks we have experienced a lot of sell orders and the ratio of sell to buy orders has been the highest since our foundation in 2003. Value buyers emerged last week but much of the buying was by existing clients adding to their holdings. The threat of sovereign default and contagion increases by the day.