I recall the early days of the Greek crisis when everyone asked why Greece was so important because it is such a small country. I responded that they had a total of $1.1 trillion in debt (sovereign, municipal, corporate, bank and derivatives) and I remember the blank stares. Now, if the newest bailout goes through, they will have more than $1.3 trillion in debt and while they could not pay the initial amount they certainly cannot pay any larger amounts so that it can clearly be stated that what is going on is the central banks of Europe and the ECB/EU lending money to Greece only as a conduit to pay back their own banking institutions. If you object to my math here recall that as the private sector involvement reduces the notational amount of sovereign debt but that the Greek banks are also going to be lent money so that the decrease in sovereign debt which excludes the ECB/EIB and IMF debt is not the headline bandied about in the press. So we have the hard date of March 9 when either the threshold for the exchange is met or not, the imposition of the CAC clause or not, the next “Question” to the ISDA if the CAC is triggered asking if there has been a credit event to trigger the CDS contracts, the possible consequences of a CDS trigger, the decision on the bailout funds by the EU and finally the March 20 hard date when Greece must make its bond payments or default. Regardless of your opinion, it may now be stated precisely, that there is a lot of risk on the table and on that basis alone I would assume a quite defensive position until this all gets played out. The risk/reward ratio is now strongly slanted towards Risk.
The situation in Greece should create some big headlines this week. The bond exchange “invitation” is set to expire at 3pm EST on Thursday March 8th. This is the so-called Private Sector Involvement or PSI. Greece has other steps to take during the week, and ultimately the Troika will determine how to proceed with the bailout, but not until the results of the PSI are known. It could be a week of confusing, misleading, and market moving headlines. Figuring out the “proper” reaction to each bit of news will require understanding the terms, and hoping the headlines are accurate – which given how confusing the situation is, cannot be fully counted on. Remember, the original “invitation” from the Greek government was for an amortizing bond, which was then changed to a series of 20 “bullet” bonds, so the level of confusion remains high.
We are in “The Lull” which has been caused by the injection of capital by the Fed and by the ECB. This is exactly, exactly, what took place I remind you during the weeks after the subprime mess exploded. Massive injections of capital, run-ups in equities, compression in bonds, higher prices for commodities and then the reversal of course took place. When easing ends then the course back tracks and I predict a re-do of this in the coming months. It will not take some trigger event, though there may well be one, to cause this; just the easy money being placed and no more manufactured money to follow.
“As the well runs dry the throat parches and dehydration begins.”
Back in October, when Greece was rewarded with further bond haircuts for progressively missing its economic targets, even after having gotten caught on at least one occasion making its economy appear worse than it was, we said that it is only a matter of time before "Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy will promptly commence sabotaging their economies (just like Greece) simply to get the same debt Blue Light special as Greece." In the aftermath of this statement, we got the Irish and the Portuguese proceeding to slowly but surely do just that. Today, it was Spain's turn to make it 3 out of 4 after as Reuters noted so appropriately, "Spain defies Brussels on deficit target" clarifying that "Spain set itself a softer budget target for 2012 on Friday than originally agreed under the euro zone's austerity drive, putting a question mark over the credibility of the European Union's new fiscal pact. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insisted he was acting within EU guidelines because the plan was still to hit the European Union public deficit goal of 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013." That Italy is sure to follow is absolutely guaranteed, however just because the ECB is now indirectly monetizing BTPs the true impact will be delayed far more, and instead of taking prompt steps to remedy the situation, the European complacency will be accentuated by the fact that bond yields are very low, and supposedly indicates the true state of the economy. No. All it indicates is the conversion of future inflation (courtesy of €1 trillion in new money in the past 3 months) for a very temporary respite before all hell ultimately breaks loose as countries pretend everything is ok as bond yields are pushed artificially low. And in doing nothing, the fundamentals in the economy only get worse and worse. Germany knows this very well, and the Economist explains the reaction to Spain's surprising statement today perfectly...
Overnight sentiment is turning south, after 4 successive days of breakout attempts have failed to conquer Dow 13K, and with crude sticky at multi month highs. The EURUSD is down over 100 pips and is testing 1.32 support. BBG summarizes the key overnight events that are shaping the mood: EU leaders, bowing to German demands, signed a deficit-control treaty at the 17th summit since the outbreak of the crisis. The treaty puts tighter restrictions on spending. A test of Europe’s commitment to austerity will come when the region debates whether to ease the deficit-reduction target for Spain, which is part of the overnight downbeat mood in stocks after PM Rajoy announced that the deficit target for the coming year is 5.8% of GDP and the 4.4% deficit goal is unattainable. The European Central Bank said overnight deposits soared to a record after its second allocation of three-year loans. Elsewhere, investors are complaining that the European Investment Bank doesn’t deserve the same exemption from losses on its Greek bond holdings as the euro region’s central bank because it didn’t buy the notes to support monetary policy. Well - don't complain, and merely just say no to the PSI. Treasuries steady; Bloomberg’s Soveriegn Debt Movers shows Greek yields plunging, Portugal slightly higher. European stocks mostly higher, U.S. futures steady. Will this downbeat mood remain - all depends on which way the momentum algos move, and whether they have been recalibrated from the prior program of following crude with a positive correlation.
Back in September, before the transition from then ECB head J.C. Trichet to current Goldman plant and uber printer Mario Draghi we asked whether "Trichet will disgrace his already discredited central banker career by pushing a rate cut before he is swept out of the corner office by Mario Draghi, or will the former Goldmanite Italian become the most hated man in Germany soon, after he proceeds to ease, even as Germany still experiences Chinese inflationary re-exports. The answer will be all too clear in just a few months." Sure enough, following a whopping €1 trillion in incremental liquidity released by the ECB in the three shorts months since Draghi's ascension on November 1, all under the guise that the ECB is not printing when it most certainly is, albeit "hidden" by the idiotic claim that it accepts collateral for said printing (what collateral - Italian and Spanish bonds, which will become worthless the second even more printing is required in a few short months? This is run time collateral that can be issued "just in time" to convert it to even more cash as UniCredit did again today), the answer is becoming clear. Slowly but surely the realization is dawning on Germany that while it was sleeping, perfectly confused by lies spoken in a soothing Italian accent that the ECB will not print, not only did Draghi reflate the ECB's balance sheet by an unprecedented amount in a very short time, in the process not only sending Brent in Euros to all time highs (wink, wink, inflation, as today's European CPI confirmed coming in at 2.7% or higher than estimated) but also putting the BUBA in jeopardy with nearly half a trillion in Eurosystem"receivables" which it will most likely never collect.
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%.
As we have discussed extensively, and noted this morning specifically, the LTRO is stigmatizing credit markets in Europe, no matter what European leaders or bank CEOs tell you. European credit and equity markets dropped dramatically post LTRO 2 and accelerated on Bernanke's lack of monetary exuberance. Financials underperformed but most notably, subordinated credit spreads widened significantly more than seniors holding at yesterday's wide levels. The Stigma trade is occurring in single-name credit also with the spread between LTRO and non-LTRO banks widening once again after compressing for a few days but it is the Senior-Sub spread decompression that is the liquid trade for European bank's implicit subordination for now (as the entire capital structure of LTRO banks just became subordinated at best and more levered and subordinated at worst). The EUR tumbled over 100pips towards 1.3350 as the USD rallied back to the week's highs. Silver (and Gold) crashed into the European close (down over 7% on the day at one point) while Treasuries sold off and European sovereigns leaked wider (except Portugal which crashed and Italy which compressed modestly). Quite a day.
As the ECB has stopped its SMP bond-buying and now the LTROs are all done (until the next one of course), Portuguese bond spreads have been increasing rapidly and post-LTRO today even more so. While broadly speaking European sovereign risk is modestly higher this week (and notably steeper across the curve) leaving funding costs still very high for most nations, Portugal has exploded over 100bps wider (and almost 70bps of that today post-LTRO) to back over 1200bps wider than Bunds. Only Italian bonds are better and even there they are leaking back to unch from pre-LTRO. Perhaps, shockingly, more debt did not solve the problem of too much debt and with growth and deficits being questioned in Ireland and Portugal (and Spain), it's clear the newly collateralized loan cash the banks have received won't be extended to the medium-term maturities in sovereign bonds.
The following people are paid to have an opinion, whether right or wrong, so it is our job to listen to them. Supposedly. Reuters summarizes the professionals kneejerk reaction to the LTRO 2. Because when it comes to explaining why Europe's banks are not only not deleveraging but increasing leverage while paying an incremental 75 bps on up to €700 billion in deposits soon to be handed over to the ECB, one needs all the favorable spin one can muster.
As US markets hit their all time highs, there is nothing but bad news in EU sovereign land. What does it take for people to understand that equities have detached from fundamentals & the macro outlook?
UPDATE: European Sovereigns not excited and PORTUG getting ugly...and corporate credit spreads leaking wider
EURUSD and equity markets are undecided, European sovereigns have rallied modestly back to earlier day tights but no further (and Portuguese debt is underperforming), and credit markets in Europe are leaking modestly wider so far. The biggest movers initially appeared to be AUD (carry FX as we noted earlier) and the precious metals (with Silver outperforming Gold so far). Cable (GBP) is weakening relative to USD and EUR and that is holding DXY up a little here. Treasuries are doing better. As we post, the USD is now strengthening, ES is losing steam, and gold and silver are slipping back. CONTEXT is lower than pre-LTRO as risk is leaking off for now.
...European banks are three times larger than the European sovereigns, the ECB is not the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, the leading economy in Europe, Germany, is 22% of the economy of America, that there are ever and always consequences for providing free money, that Europe is in a recession and it will be much deeper than thought by many in my view, that the demanded austerity measures are unquestionably worsening the recession and increasing unemployment, that nations become much more self-centered when their economies are contracting and that the more protracted all of this is; the more pronounced Newton’s reaction will be when the pendulum reverses course.
Stocks advanced as market participants looked forward to tomorrow’s 3yr LTRO by the ECB where the street expects EU banks to borrow around EUR 400-500bln. All ten sectors traded in positive territory for much of the session, however less than impressive demand for the latest Italian government paper saw equity indices lose some of the upside traction. Of note, the ECB allotted EUR 29.469bln in 7-day operation, as well as EUR 134bln for 1-day in bridge to 3yr loans. In other new, although Portugal's finance minister announced the country has passed its 3rd bailout review by the EU/IMF, this did not stop S&P's Kraemer saying that if there is a probability of default, it is higher in Portugal than in any other Euro-Zone country.