The implications of a nation leaving the Euro (and its contagion effects) are becoming clearer but are by no means discounted by the market. The risk of an interruption in the Greek adjustment program has increased significantly - and as Goldman notes - is the most likely eventual outcome for Greece and fears of the missed interest payment in June continue to concern many. The tough decision and dilemma for the international community remains between a rock (of acquiescence and just funding a belligerent member state) and had place (ECB deciding to let Greek banks go) with an odd middle ground seemingly the most likely given Europe's tendency for avoiding the hard decisions. There is no doubt that the near term implications from such an unfortunate turn of events would be profound for markets; fiscal risk premia would widen, the EUR would decline in value and European equities would underperform. The true question though, is how much lasting damage such a situation can do and whether, in the long run, systemic risks can be contained. In principle, to the extent that no other country chooses to go down the same path as Greece, there is no political or practical hurdle for the ECB to crucially safeguard the stability of the Euro area with unlimited liquidity provisions. A liquidity driven crisis can be averted in that sense. Whether risk premia stay on a higher tangent after such an event is a separate and complicated question but game-theoretically it strengthens the renegotiating position of Ireland, Portugal, and obviously Spain with the ECB (and implicitly the Bundesbank) being dragged towards the unmitigated print-fest cliff.
By mainstream media accounts, the presidential election in France and parliamentary elections in Greece on May 6 were overwhelming verdicts against “austerity” measures being implemented in Europe. There is only one problem. It is a lie. First off, austerity was never really tried. Not really. In France for example, according to Eurostat, annual expenditures have actually increased from €1.095 trillion to €1.118 trillion in 2011. In fact spending has increased every single year for the past decade. The debt there increased too from €1.932 trillion €1.987 trillion last year, just as it did every year before. Real “austere”. The French spent more, and they borrowed more. The deficit in France did decrease by about €34 billion in 2011, but that was largely because of a €56.6 billion surge in tax revenues. Again, there were no spending cuts. Zero. Yet incoming socialist president François Hollande claimed after his victory over Nicolas Sarkozy that he would bring an end to this mythical austerity: “We will bring back Europe on a track for jobs, growth and the future… We’re no longer doomed to austerity.” This is just a willful, purposeful distortion. What the heck is he talking about? Certainly not France.
Rod Serling is not doing the narration for the e-Zone unravel. And he will never turn the control of your television set back to you. It’s just going to start getting weird and keep getting weirder. Europe is the Twilight Zone.
For the first time since last July, right before the market's grand plan collapse, the Dow has fallen for 6 days-in-a-row. We could of course have just copy/pasted yesterday's end-of-day as today was a case of deja deja vu all over again as we sold off hard overnight (basically top-ticking right before the US day-session close), made new overnight lows, then managed a miraculous rally into and across the European close only to stall once again as the dip-buying algos enabled bigger blocks to dump into momentum retail players. The European close hour saw your standard 4-sigma swing (low to high) in ES (S&P 500 e-mini futures) but gave half of it back it its typical VWAP reversion as for three days in a row we have dipped and tested the S&P's 50DMA and rallied on lower volume (though ended the day with the 3rd highest volume of the year). The USD rallied further with the EUR ending around 1.2950 (though off its lows of the day) but once again commodities (which sold off pretty hard overnight) managed to crawl their way back higher (closing rather interestingly at the same levels at which they opened the European day-session). VIX ended above 20% (its highest close in a month) and its flattest term structure in five months. Treasuries ended the day marginally changed (-1bps 10Y, +1bps 3Y) but ended well off their low yields of the day. High yield credit was a major underperformer - ending below yesterday's lows (as was IG credit) - bearishly diverging from equities again.
All you need to read and some more.
When the founder of the world's largest currency hedge fund FX Concepts says that Greece will be out of money by June and out of the Euro soon after, people should listen. While we disagree with the premise that Greece's exit will not be chaotic, his general thoughts on the situation in Europe, espoused in this Bloomberg TV interview, are summed up by his reply when asked if Europe is a sell "I do. I also feel passionately that the euro is effectively a break up." Taylor also points out that the stability of a post-Greece Euro landscape is really up to the ECB noting that "I think the ECB should let the Euro go down. To hell with Germany." Covering whether the Euro will crater, the contagion effects, and how the rest of Europe will behave, the non-Duran-Duran Taylor who readily admits his mistakes on misjudging the Fed's excess, sees the timeline for exit as soon after the next round of elections in Greece this summer.
So we know that the pro-bailout parties in Greece have failed to form a coalition, and that this will either mean an anti-bailout anti-austerity government, or new elections, and that this will probably mean that the Greek default is about to become extremely messy (because let’s face it the chances of the Greek people electing a pro-austerity, pro-bailout government is about as likely as Hillary Clinton quitting her job at the State Department and seeking a job shaking her booty at Spearmint Rhino). It was said that the E.U.’s existence was justified in the name of preventing the return of nationalism and fascism to European politics. Well, as a result of the austerity terms imposed upon Greece by their European cousins in Brussels and Frankfurt, Greeks just put a fully-blown fascist party into Parliament.
Last week, looking at Third Point's best performing positions we noticed something odd: a big win in Portuguese sovereign bonds in the month of April. We further suggested: "We suspect the plan went something like this: Loeb had one of his hedge-fund-huddles; the cartel all bought into Portuguese bonds (or more likely the basis trade - lower risk, higher leverage if a 'guaranteed winner'); bonds soared and the basis was crushed; now that same cartel - facing pressure on its AAPL position (noted as one of Loeb's largest positions at the end of April) - has to liquidate (reduce leverage thanks to AAPL's collateral-value dropping) and is forced to unwind the Portuguese positions. A quick glance at the chart below tells the story of a Portuguese bond market very much in a world of its own relative to the rest of Europe this last month - and perhaps now we know who was pulling those strings?" Since the end of April, both AAPL and Portuguese bonds have tumbled, and Portugal CDS is +45 bps today alone, proving that circumstantially we have been quite correct. Today, we have the full Long Portugal thesis as explained by Loeb (it was a simple Portuguese bond long, which explains the odd rip-fest seen in the cash product in April). There is nothing too surprising in the thesis, with the pros and cons of the trade neatly laid out, however the core premise is that the Troika will simply not allow Portugal to fail, and that downside on the bonds is limited... A thesis we have heard repeatedly before, most recently last week by Greylock and various other hedge funds, which said a long-Greek bond was the "trade of the year", and a "no brainer." Sure, that works, until it doesn't: such as after this past weekend, in which Greece left the world stunned with the aftermath of what happens when the people's voice is for once heard over that of the kleptocrats, and the entire house of cards is poised to collapse.
Just as we warned last night, the lack of an active European credit market to look over the shoulders of their more exuberant equity colleagues quickly came to bear today as London traders turned up for work in no mood for bullish hope. Investment grade credit spreads in Europe jumped their most in a month and pushed close to four-month wides as the entire credit complex sold off aggressively. It seemed Main (the European IG credit index) was instrument of choice for hedgers (cheaper and more liquid with a smattering of financials) as opposed to XOVER (the European HY credit index) but we suspect the latter will rapidly catch up. Stocks fell further with Greece hitting multi-decade lows but Italy and France underperforming (as reality bit following yesterday's pump). Euro Stoxx 50 was down around 2% (now -3.5% YTD) but Spain remains the YTD biggest loser -18.2% (as opposed to Germany's DAX +9.25%). Sovereign credit was also not happy (just like yesterday) but as US opened, Italy and Spain saw notable derisking pushing their 5Y spreads +7bps and +15bps respectively on the week now. Portugal is +24bps on the week so far as the basis trade unwind begins. Europe's VIX surged above 31% for the first time since the beginning of the year and while Treasuries were bid (with 30Y touching 3%), 10Y Bunds outperformed on the safety rotation now 28.5bps inside of the 10Y TSY. EURUSD slid back under 1.30 shortly after the US opened but some miraculous gappiness (and comments from Greece) dragged its lumbering body back over the 1.30 Maginot line for now.
Yep. Now it's official.
If French Fitch, which will first be Egan-Jonesed than downgrade France from its unmovable AAA rating is starting to say that the unthinkable, namely the departure of Greece from the Eurozone, would be "bearable", then things are about to get once again exciting, as this is merely setting the stage for the next leg down. Among the other google translated gibberish said by Fitch chief Taylor, here is the argument: Germany would merely soak up the damage caused by a Greek departure: "Greece's exit does not mean the end of the euro. Above all, Germany has a fundamental interest in preserving the common currency remains. Would the D-mark re-introduced, they would add value compared to other currencies strong. The export industry, that is: would the engine of the German economy, damaged. This will not allow Germany - even if one or more countries leave the single currency area." How about Italy's exit? Or Portugal's? Or Spain's? At what point does it become unbearable for German taxpayers to burn their wealth to preserve a system that virtually nobody but a few select career politicians demand?
"In less than two years, we are now up to a total of seven European leaders or ruling parties that have been forced out of office, courtesy of the spreading government debt crisis — tack on France now to Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Even Germany's coalition is looking shaky in the aftermath of the faltering state election results for the CDU's (Christian Democratic Union) Free Democrat coalition partner. This is quite a potent brew — financial insolvency, economic fragility and political instability."
About two years ago the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund did something truly remarkable: it invested for infinity: "Norway, which has amassed the world’s second-biggest sovereign wealth fund, says Greece won’t default on its debts. The Nordic nation’s $450 billion Government Pension Fund Global has stocked up on Greek debt, as well as bonds of Spain, Italy and Portugal. Finance Minister Sigbjoern Johnsen says he backs the strategy, which contributed to a 3.4 percent loss on European fixed income in the second quarter, compared with gains on bonds in Asia and the Americas. Norway says its long-term perspective will protect it from losses. “One could say we are investing for infinity,” Johnsen said." Well, we all know how the experiment ended: "Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund Purges All Insolvent Eurozone Debt Holdings." So much for infinity. But that has not stopped others to boldly catch falling knives where so many other have tried to catch falling knives before, and failed. Enter Greylock Capital and various other hedge funds who are positive they have rediscovered the wheel.
In France, Hollande has the rep of having no backbone like a jelly fish (or flan). We will see what he really stands for and what he can achieve. Moreover when he tries to govern we’ll see if this election was more about picking him or dumping Sarkozy. I suspect it was more the latter... Greece is just a mess and I don’t know what model you apply to understand it. It may take a number of election iterations before the ‘people’ figure out they have a bitter pill to swallow and pick someone to figure out what it will look like.
Two big events down, many, many others more left to go. Below is a full European event calendar for the rest of May and June. Just like in 2011, Europe got unhinged around this time and things peaked by November when only a coordinated global intervention saved the world courtesy of $1.3 trillion from the ECB, expanded FX swaps from the Fed and a PBOC rate cut. Only unlike in 2011, with Silvio and Sarko both now gone, the roster of political scapegoats is getting very, very thin. Whose head wil the vigilantes demand next? We will find out over the summer and fall, which promise to be even more exciting than last year.