Usually on semi-US holidays such as today, when bonds are closed but equities left to the whims of vacuum tubes, equities do their mysterious ramp and never look back. So far today, however, this has failed to happen with futures at lows, driven by a noticeably weak EURUSD, which has traded down nearly 100 pips from the Friday late day ramp close, currently at 1.2940. It is unclear what has spooked the Euro so far, although all signs point to, as they did 2 months ago, the Spanish lack of willingness to throw in the towel and demand a bailout, thus easing conditions for everyone else if not for Spain PM Rajoy. Today's main event will be European finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the recent Spanish economic transformation efforts as well as an attempt to accelerate banking cooperation and implement a banking regulator - something which is needed for the ESM to monetize bank debt, and something which Germany has been firmly against from day one. Additionally, a day ahead of Merkel's visit to German (where she will be protected by 6-7,000 cops), the ministers are likely to make a positive statement on Greece’s progress toward austerity targets, according to European viceroy Olli Rehn said. In other overnight news, German Industrial Production saw a -0.5% decline, which was modestly better than the -0.6% expected. Over in Asia, China reopened from its 1 week Golden Week hibernation with the SHCOMP down -0.56% to 20.76.42 following a small bounce in the China HSBC Services PMI to 54.3 from 52 in August, and with average house prices rising for a 4th month in a row, and even more repo operations by the PBOC, the result is that the market's ungrounded hopium for an immediate PBOC liquidity injection was taken away pushing regional markets lower.
To those familiar with Algebra, we suggest that the Ponzi scheme we live in is actually an overdetermined system, because there is no solution that will simultaneously cover all the financial and non-financial imbalances of practically any currency zone on the planet. Precisely this limitation is the driver of the many growing confrontations we see: In the Middle East, in the South China Sea, in Europe and soon too, in North America. That these tensions further develop into full-fledged war is not a tail risk. The tail risk is indeed the reverse: The tail risk is that these confrontations do not further develop into wars, given the overdetermination of the system! We have noticed of late that there’s a debate on whether or not the US dollar zone will end in hyperinflation and whether or not the world can again embrace the gold standard. The fact that we are still in the early chapters of this story does not allow us to state that hyperinflation is only a tail risk. The tail risk is (again) the reverse: That all the steps central banks took since 2008 won’t lead to spiraling quasi-fiscal deficits.
In a sad case of deja vu all over again, the over-reliance on 'shaky' collateral and concentration of risk is building once more - this time in the $648 trillion derivatives market. New Clearing House rules (a la Dodd-Frank) mean derivatives counterparties are required to pledge high quality collateral with the clearing houses (or exchanges) in a more formalized manner to cover potential losses. However, the safety bid combined with Central Banks monetization of every sovereign risk asset onto their balance sheet has reduced the amount of quality collateral available; this scarcity of quality collateral creates liquidity problems. The dealers, ever willing to create fee-based business, have created a repo-like program to meet the needs of the desperate derivative counterparties - to enable them to transform lower-quality collateral into high quality collateral - which can then be posted to the clearing house or exchange. This collateral transformation, while meeting a need, runs the risk of concentrating illiquid low quality assets on bank balance sheets. In essence the next blow up risk is the eureka moment when all banks are forced to look at the cross-posted collateral. Last time it was the 'fair-value' of housing, now it is the 'fair-value' of 'transformed' collateral that is pledged at par and is really worth nickels on the dollar - "The dealers look after their own interests, and they won’t necessarily look after the systemic risks that are associated with this."
We will mince no words: Mr. Draghi has opened the door to hyperinflation. There will probably not be hyperinflation because Germany would leave the Euro zone first, but the door is open and we will explain why. To avoid this outcome, assuming that in this context the Eurozone will continue to show fiscal deficits, we will also show that it is critical that the Fed does not raise interest rates. This can only be extremely bullish of precious metals and commodities in the long run. In the short-run, we will have to face the usual manipulations in the precious metals markets and everyone will seek to front run the European Central Bank, playing the sovereign yield curve and being long banks’ stocks. If in the short-run, the ECB is the lender of last resort, in the long run, it may become the borrower of first resort!
XAU/EUR Exchange Rate Daily - (Bloomberg)
Gold at €1,355/oz, just 2.5% from the record high of €1,390/oz, is a sign of a continuing lack of trust in the euro and in Draghi’s stewardship at the ECB.
It ain't safe no more???
The slings and arrows of outrageous EUR positioning remain key to figuring out where next in this on-again-off-again currency. The last six weeks or so have seen a dramatic regime shift from smooth transitions from risk-on to risk-off to more staccato-like jumps and trends as the world hangs on every rumor and flashing red headline. We note three things that may be critical to understand where we go next: 1) EURUSD has entirely recoupled with its EUR-USD 'swap-spread' implied fair-value - removing the 'chaos premium' in the pair, and providing less room for upside without broad-market agreement; 2) EURUSD has decidedly lagged the very impressive rally in European sovereign risk (suggesting the latter may be a little over-exuberant); and 3) Despite every talking head telling you about 'all the EUR bears', both Commitment of Traders and Citi's FX positioning indicator have shifted notably more positive - with the latter, as Steve Englander notes, beginning to show significant EUR longs. Now that an active segment of the market actually seems long EUR and associated currencies, the 'good news' bar is a lot higher, and the impact of bad news will be more readily visible.
As European markets have rallied - just like in the US - forward earnings estimates have inched down, leading to a significant multiple (eurhopia) re-rating. As we noted last week, this multiple expansion is dramatically 'rich' compared to sovereign risk changes and is now at the top-end of the euro-zone crisis range. Meanwhile, sentiment has become palpably positive - put/call ratios near lows (highs in complacency; and at the same time European cash equity trading volumes have plunged to 12-year lows (with no high-priced AAPL to 'defend' this with); while fundamentally earnings momentum among cyclical stocks has continued to deteriorate since May 2012. But apart from that, it's all good...
Gold’s remonetisation in the international financial and monetary system continues. LCH.Clearnet, the world's leading independent clearing house, said yesterday that it will accept gold as collateral for margin cover purposes starting in just one week - next Tuesday August 28th. LCH.Clearnet is a clearing house for major international exchanges and platforms, as well as a range of OTC markets. As recently as 9 months ago, figures showed that they clear approximately 50% of the $348 trillion global interest rate swap market and are the second largest clearer of bonds and repos in the world. In addition, they clear a broad range of asset classes including commodities, securities, exchange traded derivatives, CDS, energy and freight. The development follows the same significant policy change from CME Clearing Europe, the London-based clearinghouse of CME Group Inc. (CME), announced last Friday that it planned to accept gold bullion as collateral for margin requirements on over-the-counter commodities derivatives. It is interesting that both CME and now LCH.Clearnet Group have both decided to allow use of gold as collateral next Tuesday - August 28th. It suggests that there were high level discussions between the world’s leading clearing houses and they both decided to enact the measures next Tuesday. It is likely that they are concerned about ‘event’ risk, systemic and monetary risk and about a Lehman Brothers style crisis enveloping the massive, opaque and unregulated shadow banking system.
It is hard to find fiscal situations that are worse than Japan's. The gross government debt/GDP ratio, at more than 200%, is the worst among the major developed economies. Yet yields on Japanese government bonds (JGBs) have not only been among the lowest, they have also been stable, even during the recent deterioration during the European debt crisis. This apparent contravention of the laws of economics is both an enigma for foreign investors and the reason for them to expect fiscal collapse as a result of a sharp rise in selling pressure in the JGB market. As Goldman notes, the European debt crisis has led to an increase in market sensitivity to sovereign risk in general and questions remain on when to expect the tensions in the JGB market and the fiscal deficit to reach a breaking point in Japan. In the following 14 charts, we explore the sustainability of fiscal deficit financing in Japan and Goldman addresses the JGB puzzles.
What do USD money markets have to do with gold? Money market funds invest in short-term highly rated securities, like US Treasury bills (sovereign risk) and commercial paper (corporate credit). But who supplies such securities to these funds? For the purpose of our discussion, participants in the futures markets, who look for secured funding. They sell their US Treasury bills, under repurchase agreements, to money market funds. These repurchase transactions, of course, take place in the so-called repo market. The repo market supplies money market funds with the securities they invest in. Now… what do participants in the futures markets do, with the cash obtained against T-bills? They, for instance, fund the margins to obtain leverage and invest in the commodity futures markets. In summary: There are people (and companies) who exchange their cash for units in money market funds. These funds use that cash to buy – under repurchase agreements - US Treasury bills from players in the futures markets. And the players in the futures markets use that cash to fund the margins, obtain leverage, and buy positions. What if these positions (financed with the cash provided by the money market funds) are short positions in gold (or other commodities)? Now, we can see what USD money markets have to do with gold! Let’s propose a few potential scenarios, to understand how USD money markets and gold are connected...
Measuring the 'contentedness' during this summer of total comfort is tricky. With equities at the year's highs in nominal prices in the US and breaking multi-month highs in Europe, how do we 'know' the relative richness or cheapness (or hope or despair) that is priced into stocks and what the 'fall' ahead looks like. We may have found a way. Europe's economic and implicitly market performance is very much based on the explicit belief that the EMU remains in tact and that Draghi's recent 'promise' will enable sovereigns to go about their economic business (austerity and growth) without the hindrance of those nasty speculating long-only fixed income managers repricing cost-of-funds and eating into the nation's growth. In the US, it's all about multiples - P/E expansion (in the face of lower 'E') has maintained the hope; and so it is in Europe. The following chart shows the extremely high correlation between European equity P/E (hope multiples) and European Sovereign risk. At the end of LTRO2, European stocks were exuberant only to fade away; currently, European stock multiples are once again back to those exuberant 'hope' heights. Trade accordingly.
While it is probably not surprising that so many decided to focus on those few words of relevance to an implicitly self-aggrandizing crowd of long-only risk-takers and commission-makers; the truth is that, as UBS notes, "Draghi was stating a fact, not changing a policy". Putting the fateful sentence in the context of the rest of his speech/interview is critical and most importantly, we agree with UBS' Justin Knight's opinion that Draghi did nothing more than make a technical observation on an impairment in monetary policy transmission (as we discussed here). Regardless, if our interpretation is correct, then the rally in peripheral bonds should unwind quickly. The size of the move probably has knocked many shorts out of the market.
It's about time for Frances funding rate to feel a little pressure, no?
Things are getting a little 'strange' in Europe. European equity markets (and voatility) have disconnected from the reality of European corporate, financial, and sovereign credit. As the massive bifurcation in sovereign yields continues - with Spain near record-highs and Swiss/German at record-lows - equities are still significantly higher post the EU-Summit (and vol massively so) as credit of any kind is dramatically wider. Specifically, 1) Europe's broad equity index is massively outperforming credit post EU Summit; 2) Europe's broad equity index Vol is majorly disconnected from XOver credit; and, 3) Europe's broad equity index is in-line with GDP-weighted sovereign risk BUT dramatically dislocated from Italian and Spanish risk (that is reflective of the core of the stress). Just as we have seen in the US, the method of choice for 'pumping hope' into equity market valuations is through the levered selling of volatility - it seems some-one/-thing with very deep pockets is getting awfully brave as Europe's VIX drops to near pre-crisis levels (and its steepest in months as short-term complacency surges).