Have a sinking suspicion that the way the Eurozone has handled the past week's Greek threat has set the stage for the collapse of the Eurozone (here's looking at you Italy, over and over) now that Merkozy has made the possibility of a country leaving the Eurozone all too real? You are not alone: Morgan Stanley's Joachim Fels has just sent a note to clients in which he not only commingles three of the catchiest and most abused apocalyptic phrases of our time ("Emperor has no clothes", "Water Pistol not Bazooka" and "Pandora's Box") he also warns, in no uncertain terms, that "by raising the possibility that a country might (be forced to) leave the euro, core European governments may have set in motion a sequence of events which could potentially lead to runs on sovereigns and banks in peripheral countries that make everything we have seen so far in this crisis look benign." And when a major investment bank, itself susceptible to bank runs warns of, well, bank runs, you listen.
As we detailed 11 months ago, LCH.Clearnet now stands at the fulcrum of today's price action in Europe as the critical 450bps spread to Bunds on European sovereign debt - which will trigger considerable rises in margin requirements - is being aggressively defended thanks to the ECB's SMP. What is evident (and troublesome) is the confluence of the rally in Bunds (as Greece implodes) and unhedgeable risks in ITA bonds which means relatively aggressive buying in ITA bonds is doing little to improve spreads. With all eyes now on the spread (which stood at a measly +150bps when the LCH.Clearnet margin rules were set) as opposed to price, buying Bunds is perhaps the easiest and most liquid way to put pressure on the Italian bond market.
Your one stop, comprehensive summary of the main bullish and bearish events in the past week.
With the EFSF, Italian and Spanish debt all creeping higher in yield today and a disappointing Italian auction, we take a deeper dive into the mechianics of the EFSF and the paradoxically weak impact it may have as sovereign risk deteriorates. The [EFSF] idea works well when people aren’t thinking there is a real chance of default, but as that increases, the EU may wish they had stuck to their original plan of having raised 440 billion of cash that they could lend directly. Basically, if the markets deteriorate, the first loss protection, is worth more, but provides less leverage.
Update: and the hits just keep on coming, first Fitch and now... MF GLOBAL CUT TO JUNK BY MOODY'S... "At the end of the second quarter, MF Global's $6.3 billion sovereign risk exposure represented 5 times the company's tangible common equity. Moody's said the downgrade reflects our view that MF Global's weak core profitability contributed to it taking on substantial risk in the form of its exposure to European sovereign debt in peripheral countries." But other major US banks have no exposure whatsover right? Oh wait...They're hedged... Through "CDS".
Bloomberg has just broken that MF Global has likely just entered a terminal deathwatch after not only tapping its credit facility, but aslo exhausting it. From Bloomberg: "MF Global Holdings Ltd., the futures broker run by Jon Corzine, drew down its revolving credit lines this week as the firm reported its biggest quarterly loss and had its credit ratings cut, said three people with knowledge of the matter. The New York-based company exhausted its revolving lines, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the move wasn’t disclosed. MF said in an Oct. 25 investor presentation that it had $1.3 billion in unused revolving credit facilities, without giving a date for the tally." This development means that instead of an M&A assignment as many were attributing the retention of Evercore bankers to (despite the dreary presence of David Ying in their midst), Jon Corzine's firm was far more likely focused on salvaging anything of value. However, now that traditional M&A is out of the picture (nobody in their right mind will pay anything close to market value for a company without cash), it is quite likely that the firm's bondholders, who most likely also have collateral exposure with MF global, whose plight started following the disclosure of extensive European exposure and which was downgraded to junk today by Fitch, will pull all liquidity and instead opt for a debt for equity conversion either in court or as a prepack. What is probably the biggest take home here is just how much of a capital drain European exposure (and we are confident MF was "hedged".... just like Morgan Stanley) can become, and how quickly a firm can become completely insolvent. As a reminder, the firm reported $710 million in cash as of June 30. Obviously all of that cash must have been burned through if the firm also not only tapped but exhausted its $1.3 billion in revolvers in the past quarter (which have rating associated rate step ups, which don't take too kindly to a junk rating). Net result: $2 billion in cash (or about 9 times its makret cap) burned in 4 months primarily due to "hedged" European exposure.
Citi On Whether Europe Can Ruin The World; Or How To Use An Insolvent Continent As An Excuse For Global PrintingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/25/2011 14:54 -0400
While Citi's Stephen Englander does not go as far as concluding that a collapse of Europe would be sufficient (but certainly necessary) to "ruin" the world, he does have a very relevant conclusion in a piece just released to clients: namely that central banks everywhere, but in Europe, are using the recessionary slow down in the insolvent continent, which nobody seems to believe any more will be able to avoid a recession (an event which S&P stated in no uncertain terms would lead to a downgrade in France and other core countries), as the perfect political smokescreen to push the turbo print button on their respective money printers. To wit: "Eurozone weakness has also generated indications that policy will be eased elsewhere (even if not in Europe). Policymakers in the US, UK and elsewhere [ZH: and Japan as of 2 hours ago] are using the euro crisis as cover to ease policy. For example, the FRBNY's Dudley yesterday characterized even the improved US numbers as disappointing and pointed to further measures if growth did not improve. Chinese growth targets and policy maker comments imply that measures might be taken if there is any sign of slowing. The BoE has already expanded it QE program. At a minimum the comments are suggesting that the policymakers are willing to take aggressive action to offset any weakness. Overall the bias towards stimulus appears to remain in place outside Europe." What is supremely paradoxical is that with the ECB stuck, any incremental QEasing by the world will merely result in an ever stronger euro, until exports by Germany become almost as impossible as those of Switzerland pr peg. As a result, organic European growth at whatever remaining centers of productivity and commerce will be truncated until it is gone completely, even as the EURUSD approaches 2.00, as the Fed embarks on what will be by then something between QE5 and QE10. And there are those who wonder why gold makes sense not only here, not only at $1570 a month ago, but at $1900 under two months ago...
Stocks are not the only thing to surge since the October 3 lows. As the chart below shows, yields (and spreads to Bunds) of all Eurozone bonds, both in the core and the periphery, have followed the equity Risk On sentiment diligently (if inversely), and are now at the widest they have been in the past 3 weeks. In other words, contrary to expectations of a mitigation in sovereign risk exhibited by a drop in spreads or yields, or both, following the CDS ban, we have seen precisely the opposite as sovereign risk has soared. But at least it has been accompanied by what continues to be an epic short squeeze, and has thus been masked by the overall market noise. In fact, one can make the argument that in many ways we are seeing the same response that we saw back in the US in advance of various monetization episodes, as it is becoming increasingly clear that it is the sovereigns themselves that are the risky assets, while corporates across the board must be saved at all costs by the ECB, the Fed or both. To purists wondering how it is possible to have a risk transfer of this magnitude in a continent in which the central bank does not have the same market levitation capabilities as the Fed (the ECB essentially needs a Bundestag approval for all its decisions going forward) we wish we had some insight.
The ongoing squeeze in US equities, evident in the significant outperformance of the most-shorted-name indices from Goldman relative to market indices, continues to keep domestic wealth effects ticking along nicely while US credit and European equity and credit markets do not seem to have got the same memo. While this rally, seemingly predicated on the fact that Europe 'get's it' finally (and admittedly some talking head chatter about the number of earnings beats - which we argue is useless given previous discussions of the wholesale downgrading of expectations heading into earnings), the US equity market is the only market to have made new highs this week, is outperforming its credit peers in the US (which is simply ignorant given HY's relative cheapness if this was a risk-on buying spree), and most wonderfully - is hugely outperforming the European financials, European sovereigns, European IG and HY credit, and European equities. Did US equities become the new safe-haven play of the world? Perhaps this week, but we suspect that won't end well - at least from the experience of the last decade or so.
S&P Downgrades Over 20 Italian Banks, Says Difficult Climate Is Neither "Transitory" Nor "Easily Reversed"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 10/18/2011 12:05 -0400
Another day, another pervasive downgrade action by S&P. "In our opinion, renewed market tensions in the eurozone's periphery, particularly in Italy, and dimming growth prospects have led to further deterioration in the operating environment for Italian banks. We also think the cost of funding for Italian banks will increase noticeably because of higher yields on Italian sovereign debt. Furthermore, we expect the higher funding costs for both banks and corporates to result in tighter credit conditions and weaker economic activity in the short-to-medium term. We do not believe that this difficult operating climate is transitory or that it will be easily reversed. In our view, funding costs for Italian banks and corporates will remain noticeably higher than those in other eurozone countries unless the Italian government implements workable growth-enhancing measures and achieves a faster reduction in the public sector debt burden. Consequently, we envisage a situation where the Italian banks may well be operating with a competitive disadvantage versus their peers in other eurozone countries. At the same time, we think all banking systems across the eurozone, including Italy, may raise their commitment to reinforcing banks' capitalization."
So Europe is getting closer to announcing some form of ban on naked CDS. What they hope it will accomplish and what it will actually accomplish are two very different things. so what do they hope to get by banning naked shorts? They expect CDS to tighten. That will likely be the initial reaction. They expect a tightening in CDS to lead to improved purchases for bonds. That is unlikely to occur. Let's take a close look at Italy to show why their expectations are likely to be disappointed. First, it is important to remember that CDS on Italy trades in $'s and their bonds are denominated in Euros. That is a key difference. If you buy (or sell) CDS on Italy, the flows are in $'s. So as Italy widens you make money on the CDS. You would also make money being short Italy in the bond market. If the correlation between Italy widening, and Euro weakening is high, the CDS is a better way to be short. This creates a basis that is far more complex than a straightforward CDS where the CDS is denominated in the same currency as the underlying bonds. Unintended Consequences seems to have taken on a new meaning. Unintended consequences means to me, that a lot of thought went into the consequences and the end result surprised. I no longer believe that significant thought goes into the potential consequences. The analysts see what they want and get tunnel vision on the series of consequences they want to see, rather than really trying to figure out what might happen. Europe is not only behind the curve, they act like they are playing checkers with a 4 year old, when the markets are a game of chess, and they should be seriously analyzing the moves and countermoves that can occur before determining their next move. They also have to remember the risk side. So much focus is on the possible benefits of a “Grand Plan” that no resources are being devoted to what happens if that plan fails. Maybe they should strive for less potential upside to the plan in order to sure that this isn’t the last plan they can try.
Fitch Ratings-London/Milan-07 October 2011: Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Italian Republic's (Italy) foreign and local currency Long-term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) from 'AA-' (AA minus) to 'A+' (A plus) and the short-term rating from 'F1+' to 'F1'. The Outlook on the long-term ratings is Negative. The Country Ceiling of 'AAA' has also been affirmed. The downgrade reflects the intensification of the Euro zone crisis that constitutes a significant financial and economic shock which has weakened Italy's sovereign risk profile. As Fitch has cautioned previously, a credible and comprehensive solution to the crisis is politically and technically complex and will take time to put in place and to earn the trust of investors. In the meantime, the crisis has adversely impacted financial stability and growth prospects across the region. However, the high level of public debt and fiscal financing requirement along with the low rate of potential growth rendered Italy especially vulnerable to such an external shock.
And here we go again. Ironically, this is nothing. Wait until S&P, which just telegraphed very loudly the next steps earlier, puts France on downgrade review...
The unerring belief that powers greater than mere mortals will vanquish the enemy of lack-of-bank-capital this weekend was enough to spur a significant turnaround in European stocks and spreads as they headed towards the close. While optically, the strength in senior financials spreads appears wondrous, we note that subordinated spreads are underperforming seniors significantly (when one would expect them to be outperforming if all was really well) and broad equity indices (and credit indices) only managed to get back to marginally unchanged. Sovereign risk remains notably wider still - which has the smell of a bailout/nationalization risk-transfer to it in our ever so humble opinion.
While equity markets in the US have been hurt hard the last 24 hours, credit has been signaling notably more weakness than equities for a while. Today's action follows a similar path to Europe with equities underperforming credit and catching up to credit's view. Last night saw the credit indices close considerably cheap to their fair-value as investors grabbed index overlays as the most liquid hedges - today we some unwind of that as HY bonds are net sold and single-name CDS are decompressing considerably.