With home prices rising at near-record paces in SoCal, corporate debt yields at record-lows, equity markets surging at near-record rates, and high quality assets dwindling by the minute under the heel of a central bank jack boot; it is perhaps no surprise that investors have switched from finding leverage through the balance sheet (i.e. crappy quality firms) to finding leverage through the instrument (i.e. structured credit). The trouble this time is that yields (and spreads) being so low, the creators of the new-normal ABS, CDOs, and CLOs have to stoop to the old tricks to make their money (as we noted here). As Bloomberg reports, bond issuers are once again exploiting the credit rating agency pay-for-performance business model to create "high-quality" collateralizable assets from utter garbage - such as auto loans.
- Gold Bears Defy Rally as Goldman Closes Short Wager (BBG)
- Still stuck on central-bank life support (Reuters)
- Ebbing Inflation Means More Easy Money (BBG)
- So much for socialist wealth redistribution then? François Hollande to woo French business with tax cut (FT)
- Billionaires Flee Havens as Trillions Pursued Offshore (BBG)
- Companies Feel Pinch on Sales in Europe (WSJ)
- Brussels plan will ‘kill off’ money funds (FT)
- Danes as Most-Indebted in World Resist Credit (BBG)
- Syria says prime minister survives Damascus bomb attack (Reuters)
- Syria: Al-Qaeda's battle for control of Assad's chemical weapons plant (Telegraph)
- Nokia Betting on $20 Handset as It Loses Ground on IPhone (BBG)
- Rapid rise of chat apps slims texting cash cow for mobile groups (FT)
- Calgary bitcoin exchange fighting bank backlash in Canada (Calgary Herald)
Unfortunately for the apparently not quite big enough to not fail Italian bank's former leaders, the Monte Paschi derivative debacle just won't go away. As Reuters reports today, the first (or many) arrests have been made. Gianluca Baldassarri and four other people suspected of criminal conspiracy to commit fraud were arrested after police seized EUR40mm of apparently ill-gotten gains. The alleged fraud and bribery case charges Baldassarri (who left shortly after the arrival of the new CEO in Jan 2012) of misleading regulators over the true nature of a secret derivative contract that was found in a safe by the bank's new management in October 2012. Echoing JPM's London Whale, they uncovered a 'systematic overshooting of risk limits' in the management of the group's EUR24bn prop book. Baldassarri was arrested quickly after the police found evidence that he was trying to cash in securities worth over EUR1mm soon after the funds were seized.
Remember all those soaring German confidence indices that said ignore the negative GDP print and focus on a future so bright, ze Germans've got to wear Zeiss? Appears the confidence may have been a tad massaged upwards because following a spate of weak corporate results out of Europe's growth dynamo, the German HDE retail association said Christmas sales for November and December were down some 0.7% from the prior year. Specifically German retail sales plunged -1.7% from November on expectations of a modest -0.1% decline, while on a year over year basis December imploded a whopping -4.7% vs expectations of -1.5%. Did the Germans blame the weather of lack of government spending, or maybe say to only focus on the positive aspects of the report (if any)? No. They were not girlie men about it. In now traditional news, Greek retail sales in November followed suit and plunged just a tad more than in Germany imploding by some -16.8% in November. Remember: once they hit 0 they can only go up. But the biggest news certainly was Germany, whose economy continues to deteriorate and is probably what spurred Buba president Jens Weidmann to say that ongoing bailouts could threaten the strongest members.
Earlier today, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), one of the few transnational financial "supervisors" which is about as relevant in the grand scheme of things as the BIS, whose Basel III capitalization requirements will never be adopted for the simple reason that banks can not afford, now or ever, to delever and dispose of assets to the degree required for them to regain "stability" (nearly $4 trillion in Europe alone as we explained months ago), issued a report on Shadow Banking. The report is about 3 years late (Zero Hedge has been following this topic since 2010), and is largely meaningless, coming to the same conclusion as all other historical regulatory observations into shadow banking have done in the recent past, namely that it is too big, too unwieldy, and too risky, but that little if anything can be done about it. Specifically, the FSB finds that the size of the US shadow banking system is estimated to amount to $23 trillion (higher than our internal estimate of about $15 trillion due to the inclusion of various equity-linked products such as ETFs, which hardly fit the narrow definition of a "bank" with its three compulsory transformation vectors), is the largest in the world, followed by the Euro area with a $22 trillion shadow bank system (or 111% of total Euro GDP in 2011, down from 128% at its peak in 2007), and the UK in third, with $9 trillion. Combined total shadow banking, not to be confused with derivatives, which at least from a theoretical level can be said to offset each other (good luck with that when there is even one counterparty failure), is now $67 trillion, $6 trillion higher than previously thought, and virtually the same as global GDP of $70 trillion at the end of 2011.
The decision to downgrade Italy's rating reflects the following key factors:
1. Italy is more likely to experience a further sharp increase in its funding costs or the loss of market access than at the time of our rating action five months ago due to increasingly fragile market confidence, contagion risk emanating from Greece and Spain and signs of an eroding non-domestic investor base. The risk of a Greek exit from the euro has risen, the Spanish banking system will experience greater credit losses than anticipated, and Spain's own funding challenges are greater than previously recognized.
2. Italy's near-term economic outlook has deteriorated, as manifest in both weaker growth and higher unemployment, which creates risk of failure to meet fiscal consolidation targets. Failure to meet fiscal targets in turn could weaken market confidence further, raising the risk of a sudden stop in market funding.
There are two forthcoming dates which will set the direction and strength of the tide and certainly have a marked affect upon the ventures. They are this Sunday, May 6, when both the French and Greek populace will decide on who is running their government and then on May 31 when the Irish have their refrendum. At the least one must be thankful that there are Democracies that are working and that no group of Generals or some thug is making the decisions. Forthcoming we visualize many Socialist demands such as Eurobonds being made and Germany standing alone in the corner and refusing to fund which will make for all kinds of volatile markets. The bigger crisis though, we fear, will be when Germany says no to funding some grand Socialist idea. The problem is the size of the economy. The German economy is 25% of the American economy and it is going to get down to a matter of capital and what Germany can afford without being downgraded and a European Union without a AAA rated Germany is a very different affair both for the EU’s debt structure and for the Euro. In June the Fed’s Operation Twist comes to an end. There is no new stimulus plan on the table in either America or in Europe now. This means that the last four years of monetary easing and living off of that which has been printed is coming to an end. The consequences of this, historically, have been declines in the equity markets.
Jon Hilsenrath Is Scratching His (And The NY Fed's) Head Over The Job Number Discrepancy And Okun's LawSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/12/2012 07:40 -0500
A month ago Zero Hedge, based on some Goldman observations, asked a simple question: is Okun's law now terminally broken? Today, with about a one month delay, the mouthpiece of the New York Fed (which in itself is nothing but a Goldman den of central planners, and Bill Dudley and Jan Hatzius are drinking buddies), Jon Hilsenrath shows that this is just the issue bothering his FRBNY overseers. In an article in the WSJ he ruminates: "Something about the U.S. economy isn't adding up. At 8.3%, the unemployment rate has fallen 0.7 percentage point from a year earlier and is down 1.7 percentage points from a peak of 10% in October 2009. Many other measures of the job market are improving. Companies have expanded payrolls by more than 200,000 a month for the past three months, according to Labor Department data. And the number of people filing claims for government unemployment benefits has fallen. Yet the economy is barely growing. Many economists in the past few weeks have again reduced their estimates of growth. The economy by many estimates is on track to grow at an annual rate of less than 2% in the first three months of 2012. The economy expanded just 1.7% last year. And since the final months of 2009, when unemployment peaked, the economy has expanded at a pretty paltry 2.5% annual rate." Hilsenrath's rhetorical straw man: "How can an economy that is growing so slowly produce such big declines in unemployment?" The answer is simple Jon, and is another one we provided a month ago - basically the US is now effectively "printing" jobs by releasing more and more seasonally adjusted payrolls into the open, which however pay progressively less and less (see A "Quality Assessment" Of US Jobs Reveals The Ugliest Picture Yet). After all, what the media always forgets is that there is a quantity and quality component to jobs. The only one that matters in an election year, however, is the former. As for whether Okun's law is broken, we suggest that the New York Fed looks in the mirror on that one.
ZeroHedge’s post on the apparent breakdown of Okun’s “Law” highlights the ongoing tragicomedy of how the science of central economic planning eventually confounds, and then consumes itself. Economics is, after all, a social “science”, an elaborate study of human beings and, most importantly, human interactions. Robert Okun, for his part, merely observed in 1962 that when “output” (whatever statistical measure is en vogue) rises by 3%, the unemployment rate seems to fall by 1%. For some reason, economics assumes that if it is true in the past, it will be true forever, so it was written into the canon of orthodox economic practice. Economics has inferred causation into that relationship, giving it a layer of permanence that may not be warranted. Econometrics has always had this inherent flaw. The science of modern economics makes assumptions based on certain data, and then extrapolates them as if these assumptions will always and everywhere be valid. There is this non-trivial postulation that correlation equals causation. In the case of Okun’s Law, it seems fully logical that there might be causation since it makes intuitive sense – more economic activity should probably lead to more jobs, and vice versa. But to assume a two-variable approach to something that should be far more complex is more than just dangerous, it is unscientific. In fact, Okun’s Law has already been adjusted somewhat, most famously by Ben Bernanke and Andrew Abel in their 1991 book. It was upgraded to a 2% change in output corresponding with a 1% inverse change in unemployment. Apparently with the economic “success” of that period, Okun needed a re-calibration.
Not only is the large bank-GSE cartel preventing millions of Americans from refinancing, but these same cartel players are also thwarting Fed monetary policy and hurting all our economic prospects.
As expected in the aftermath of the concluded S&P ratings action on European sovereigns, the next action is for the rating agency to go ahead and start cutting related banks and insurers, as we noted over the weekend with many of the main European banks anticipated to see one or two notch cuts potentially as soon as today. Which is why the just released report "How Our Rating Actions On Eurozone Sovereigns Could Affect Other Issuers In The Region" will be read by great interest by many to get a sense of when the next shoe is about to drop. Here is what it says on that topic.
And Back To Greek Downgrade Triggers: Moody's Puts AAA Rating Of Most Greek Structured Finance Products On Downgrade ReviewSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/19/2010 10:25 -0500
Moody's has just placed $27 billion of AAA-rated bonds backed by Greek loans on review for possible downgrade due to increasing stress in the domestic economy. In essence thiscovers all Greek structured finance and covered bond transactions. Which is odd because Papandreou for the 1,485,384,495.4th time has just said that Greece is not looking for bailouts. Just this once, we will take Moody's word over someone else's.
The presentation below from Ann Rutledge is recommended almost exclusively for credit and structured finance fanatics. It does a very good job of capturing the morphing face of credit products and the (un)packaging of risk, especially over the past two decades.