This one is actually quite funny, although we feel that the MMTers, the Neo-Keynesians, the Econ 101 textbook fanatics, and the government apparatchiks out there will fail to appreciate the humor. However, we are a little concerned how many of those in charge read into this a little too much, and decide to make this official policy...
Volatility is back. The S&P moved more than 1% on 4 of the 5 days, had the biggest down day of the year, and even the least volatile day was a 0.7% move.
It appears the chaotic volatility of last Summer is rearing its ugly head once again as credit and equity markets in Europe flip-flop from best performance in months to worst performance day after day. With Spain front-and-center as pivot security (as we have been aggressively noting for weeks), sovereigns and financials are lagging dreadfully once again. The Bloomberg 500 (Europe's S&P 500 equivalent) back near mid January lows, having swung from unchanged to pre-NFP levels back to worst of the week at today's close, European banks are leading the charge lower as the simple fact that liquidity can't fix insolvency is rwit large in bank spreads and stocks. Treasuries have benefited, even as Bunds saw huge flows, outperforming Bunds by 18bps since pre-NFP but it is Portugal +33bps, Spain +22bps, and Italy +9bps from then that is most worrisome. LTRO Stigma remains at its 4 month wides but financials broadly are under pressure as many head back towards pre-LTRO record wides. Europe's VIX is back up near recent highs around 30%. With too-big-to-save Spain seeing record wide CDS and even the manipulated bond market unable to hold up under the real-money selling pressure, the ECB's dry powder in SMP looks de minimus with only unbridled QE (since banks have no more collateral to lend) and the ECB taking the entire Spanish debt stock on its books as a solution, access to capital markets is about to case for Spain (outside of central-bank-inspired reacharounds) and as we noted earlier - every time the ECB executes its SMP it increases the credit risk for existing sovereign bondholders (and implicitly all the Spanish banks). Spain's equity market is a mere 5% above its March 2009 lows (55% off its highs).
So let's talk Greece, Paris and Natural Gas.
All it took was a Frenchman losing his nerve, some chatter on QE, and a few more weak US and EU data points, and hope for better Chinese GDP, and sure enough - free-money-flow is back on the table and risk assets are responding. European equity and credit markets have all but totally recovered to their Thursday closing (pre-NFP-plunge) levels. European sovereigns are mixed with Portugal 27bps wider than pre-NFP, Spain unch, and Italy -11bps but EURUSD is higher on the day and now back above last Thursday's highs as we note Europe's VIX dropped in sync with US VIX today - still maintaining relatively elevated levels historically relative to the US.
The Wizard predicts it will be Greece, Portugal and Ireland all back at the trough in 2012 and Spain lining up for its first feeding. Italy remains a question mark but with a real debt to GDP ratio of 200% the structural issues will not be overcome by anything that Mr. Monti has proposed to date. As we all focus on the sovereigns in the last few days I point out that the European banks are down around 2%-4.5% in Germany, Italy and Spain today while the largest bank in Portugal has seen its share price drop 15% this morning. You may ignore the ugliness and the markets may ignore it for this or that day but the European ugliness is not going away and I would be a seller on any pop in equities or risk assets because the European landscape is a quite Bleak House.
The European debt struggle may have just entered a new phase. Don’t blink. Like any classy magician’s trick the idea is to get you looking one place while the real action is going on somewhere else. And that has been the recipe over the past week or so. While everyone has been watching the Spanish and Portuguese debt auctions, the real damage was done in Germany where the German government’s bid-cover ratio on a ten-year bund auction came in less than ‘one.’
What makes this time different? Several items:
- The Crisis coming from Europe will be far, far larger in scope than anything the Fed has dealt with before.
- The Fed is now politically toxic and cannot engage in aggressive monetary policy without experiencing severe political backlash (this is an election year).
- The Fed’s resources are spent to the point that the only thing the Fed could do would be to announce an ENORMOUS monetary program which would cause a Crisis in of itself.
The Fed's currency swap with the ECB is nothing more than a covert bailout for European banks. Philipp Bagus of Mises.com explains how the USD-funding crisis occurred among European banks inevitably leading to the Fed assuming the role of international lender of last resort - for which US taxpayers are told to be lucky happy since this free-lunch from printing USD and sending them overseas provides an almost risk-free benefit in the form of interest on the swap. Furthermore, the M.A.D. defense was also initiated that if this was not done, it would be far worse for US markets (and we assume implicitly the economy). The Fed's assurances on ending the bailout policy should it become imprudent or cost-benefits get misaligned seems like wishful thinking and as the EUR-USD basis swap starts to deteriorate once again, we wonder just how long before the Fed's assumed role of bailing out the financial industry and governments of the world by debasing the dollar will come home to roost. As Bagus concludes: "Fed officials claim to know that the bailout-swaps are basically a free lunch for US taxpayers and a prudent thing to do. Thank God the world is in such good hands." and perhaps more worryingly "The highest cost of the Fed policy, therefore, may be liberty in Europe" as the Euro project is enabled to play out to its increasingly centralized full fiscal union endgame.
The Apple comparisons have come thick and fast but today's Bloomberg Chart-of-the-day really highlights the macro fundamental weakness in Europe and the micro-bubble in corporate America's shiny new toy. Apple's market cap is larger than the combined market cap of companies in Spain, Portugal, and Greece.
We have been mis-lead first by the short term effects of the LTRO and then by the political commentary that everything had returned to normal. Hard data will show that things now are about as normal as 9/15/08, the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy... It is just not Greece and Ireland that are experiencing huge drop-offs in the M-1 money supply but Portugal -14.00%, -13.80% in Italy and Spain is quickly approaching double digit numbers. Even in developed countries the signs are worsening as the Henderson Global Investors gauge, the Real Narrow Money Supply, peaked at 5.1% in November, then dropped to 3.6% in January and was 2.1% for February. This is comparable to the declines seen in mid-2008 and so I bring this to your attention. Equally as worrisome is M-2 in the United States which fell below 1.6% last month for the first time since records have been kept in 1959.
Last Friday saw the release of a below-expected US Non-Farm Payrolls figure, causing flight to safety in particularly thin markets, with equity futures spiking lower and US T-notes making significant gains. Data from this week so far in Asia has shown Chinese CPI is still accelerating, coming in above expectations at 3.6% against an expected 3.4% reading. Looking ahead in the session, there is very little in the way of data due to the reduced Easter session in the US and the European and UK markets closing for Easter Monday.
Two weeks ago we noted that all those banks that 'invested' in Spanish and Italian 'Sarkozy' carry-trades post LTRO2 are now under-water on their positions (on a MtM basis). The last week or so has seen this situation deteriorate rather rapidly with Spanish yields now backed up all the way to mid-November levels (and notably Spanish equities below their November lows) removing all the LTRO-exuberance leaving all Spanish banks under-water on their carry trades (should they ever have to MtM). At the same time, the critical aspect of LTRO (that is reliquifying tha banks to avoid the credit contraction vicious cycle that was beginning) has also failed. LTRO-encumbered banks now trade with a credit spread on senior unsecured (but now hugely subordinated) paper of 305bps on average (compared to non-LTRO-encumbered banks trading at 180bps on average) - back up near January's worst levels and almost entirely removing any of the tail-risk-reduction expectations that LTRO was supposed to provide. As Peter Tchir notes, there are two types of credit losses - default/restructuring (Greece and soon to be Portugal/Spain et al.) and bad positioning (or forced selling as risk becomes too much to bear - Spanish Govt/Financial credit) - these two sources of self-fulfilling pain are mounting once again. The simple truth is that without endless and infinite LTRO (or printing) funding for banks there is not enough demand for Europe's peripheral junk (as the Spanish auction highlighted) and the lack of performing collateral means the next stage will be outright printing (as opposed to a veiled repo loan) and that fact is beginning to creep into US financials as systemic contagion spreads.
European equities are taking losses as North America comes to market, with particular underperformance noted in the periphery bourses. Risk-aversion pushed both Spanish and Italian yields higher, with the spread between the Spanish 10-year and the Bund crossing above 400BPS for the first time since Late November 2011. The yields have now come off their highs but still remain elevated. It should be noted that markets are generally light today heading into the Easter weekend as investors take risk off the markets, so large surges in volumes have been observed. In the FX markets, EUR/CHF briefly broke below the SNB’s staunchly defended 1.2000 level on some exchanges, but uncertainty remains over the exact low due to different exchanges registering different prints. Needless to say, all exchanges witnessed a 30pip spike upwards in the cross with significant demand seen pushing the cross away from the floor. EUR/CHF now trades around the 1.2020 level.